The percentage of students passing state tests increased this year, education officials said Tuesday.
Washington students did a little better on last spring’s state tests than they did in 2015, with higher passage rates in every grade and subject, officials said Tuesday.
The biggest increases came in the eighth grade, with 67.5 percent of students passing science (up 7.2?percentage points) and 59.7?percent passing English/language arts (up 3.3 points).
Math scores were up, too, but not as much, with the highest gain in the sixth grade, where 48 percent of students passed, 2.8 points higher than in 2015. And the passage rate for 11th-graders was particularly low, at 21.8 percent.
School and district results
For all the results for Washington’s schools and school districts, go to: http://st.news/test-scores-2016
This is the second year that the Smarter Balanced tests in English/language arts and math have been given statewide, and the first since Congress passed a new federal education law, which could change how the scores are used.
Though fewer students are passing the Smarter Balanced tests than previous state exams, state Superintendent Randy Dorn said he was “ecstatic” about the numbers.
“If we had the old standard, it would be a false hope for a lot of kids,” he said. “We would have kids take out student loans, then take a class in college they aren’t prepared for.”
But Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, said the results “shine a light on the arbitrary nature of the pass/fail decisions and our inability to properly fund public education.”
The scores should be used to determine which schools need more support, rather than whether or not a student graduates, she said.
Girls outperformed boys in all language arts and math tests in grades 5-8. About 69 percent of eighth-grade females passed the language arts test, for example, 13 percentage points higher than their male classmates.
Also among eighth-grade students, the gaps in performance among racial and socio-economic groups were evident: 78 percent of Asian-American students and 66?percent of white students passed the language arts test. About 42 percent of black, Hispanic and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students, and 35 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students passed.
Low-income students in the eighth grade had a passage rate of 44 percent. Similar racial and socio-economic disparities existed in other grades as well.
In school districts with 500 or more students, the Bethel and Shoreline school districts had the greatest gains on the eighth-grade language arts tests. Bethel’s passage rate increased by 9 percentage points, to 55 percent. Shoreline’s was 74 percent, an increase of 8 percentage points from the year before.
Seattle had gains as well, with a gain of 6.7 percentage points in English/language arts and 5.5 points in math. At least 60 percent of students passed language arts and math in every grade, with the exception of juniors, who had only a 21 percent passage rate in math. More than half the district’s juniors opted out of the math exam. Without opt-outs, the passage rate would have been 45 percent, up from 30 percent in 2015.
Statewide, the number of students who refused to take the tests decreased this year, although the state still fell short of the federally required 95 percentfor the math test. About 96 percent of students took the English-language arts test, but in math, the rate was 93 percent, said Robin Munson, assistant superintendent for assessment and student information.
Last year’s participation rate was 91 percent in both subjects, with many high-school juniors opting out of the exams, especially in the Bainbridge Island, Issaquah and Enumclaw school districts. This year, about 40?percent of juniors refused to take the math exam, and 40 percent of the students who hadn’t already passed the English/language arts exam their sophomore year didn’t take the test.
Dorn said the state will likely avoid sanctions by showing the federal government that even though the rate is lower than the threshold, the juniors’ participation rate increased significantly from the year before.
Starting with the class of 2017, high-school students are required to pass the language-arts test to graduate, and students who passed the test as sophomores didn’t have to retake the test. That helped increase the participation rate for that exam, Dorn said.
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The Smarter Balanced tests are based on the Common Core learning standards in math and English/language arts. Those standards have been adopted by more than 40 states and are designed to prepare students for higher education or to enter the workforce. Though the learning standards have been controversial in a number of states, there has been little opposition in Washington to date.
The Smarter Balanced exams are sometimes called “next-generation assessments,” which are taken on a computer and give students easier or harder questions based on how well they’re doing. If they have the correct answer, for example, the next question is harder.
The Smarter Balanced tests are given in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. Washington students also take state science exams in grades 5 and 8, and a biology test in high school.
About 89 percent of last spring’s seniors passed all the assessments they needed in order to graduate. Among this year’s incoming seniors, 72 percent have fulfilled all the test requirements to date.
As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in December 2015, states gained much more power in deciding how to use state testing in evaluating schools. The state superintendent’s office is working on a plan for the transition to the new law, which will fully go into effect in the 2017-18 school year.
But the state still must ensure that at least 95 percent of students take the English/language arts and math exams.