Across the state, only seventh-grade students improved from 2016 on the reading tests, and sixth- and seventh-graders improved slightly in math.
Washington students’ performance on Smarter Balanced tests — which cover English/language arts and math — held steady this year, but education leaders say the results show the state has a long way to go.
Across the state, the only improvement from 2016 came in seventh-grade reading, and sixth- and seventh-grade math, according to results released Thursday from the state superintendent’s office. The largest gain was in seventh-grade reading, where the passage rates were 60.1 percent, up 1.6 percentage points from 2016. (The rate for high-school juniors in math also increased by 4 percentage points, but those numbers are skewed because so many students opted out the exam in 2016, earning zeros.)
In all the other grades, passage rates stayed about the same or declined up to 2 percentage points.
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But none of the gains or losses were large enough to be statistically significant, said state Superintendent Chris Reykdal.
As in other years, the results for certain groups of students were much lower than the statewide averages.
The passage rate for low-income students in seventh-grade reading, for example, was 43 percent; for migrant students it was 29 percent; and for special-education students, 19 percent.
“What jumps out are the persistent achievement gaps and the fact that little progress is being made, and it’s not enough,” Reykdal said.
The gaps among different student groups is a substantial concern, he added.
Among racial groups, Asian seventh-graders passed at the highest rate, at 79 percent; followed by white students at 67 percent; students of two or more races at 64 percent; Hispanic students at 42 percent; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students at 40 percent; black students at 39 percent; and American Indian/Alaska Native students at 32 percent.
As required by federal law, students are tested each year in math and reading in grades three through eight, and once in high school. Fifth- and eighth-grade students are also tested in science.
Seattle’s results mirrored the state’s, with few increases and decreases larger than 1 percent.
In third through eighth grades, Seattle’s passage rates ranged from 61 to 69 percent. About 77 percent of high-school juniors were proficient in reading but only 20 percent were proficient in math, again, a rate largely due to the number of students that didn’t take the exam.
Sixth-graders made the most gains among Seattle students, with a 68 percent passage rate in reading, an increase of 3 percentage points from last year.
This is the third year Washington students have taken the Smarter Balanced exams, which are based on national learning standards that about half the states are using.
Last spring’s tests also were the last before the new federal K-12 education law — called the Every Student Succeeds Act — takes effect this school year.
That law gives states more flexibility in how they measure student progress and how they hold schools and districts accountable for how well their students perform. Reykdal will submit Washington’s plan to the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 18.
Students are tested the same amount under ESSA as they were under the past federal law, called No Child Left Behind. But unlike No Child Left Behind, under ESSA, schools won’t be measured only by standardized tests. In addition to test scores, the state will evaluate schools based on other criteria, such as academic progress and chronic-absenteeism rates.
“We have a new system where test scores still matter, but not to the extent they did before, because we know accountability is much more about other things,” Rekydal said, mentioning student attendance and how many classes ninth-grade students pass.
Under ESSA, states must also set goals for how many students pass the tests. Washington’s ESSA plan includes a goal that students statewide, and in each subgroup — such as racial groups, low-income students or students in special education — reach a proficiency rate of 90 percent by the 2026-27 school year.
Reykdal called the goals aggressive, but attainable.
“It’s going to be tough, but we want it to be difficult and hard and challenging,” he said.
This year’s scores will help set a baseline for how much schools and districts will need to improve each year to reach that target. That baseline is an average of three years of scores. Based on that average, each school then has a target to meet each year, along with the overall goal of 90 percent by 2026-27.
For third-graders who took the reading test, for example, the three-year average is 53 percent. To reach 90 percent, the rate statewide will need to increase by 3.7 percentage points annually. But for low-income students, the proficiency rate will need to increase by about 5 percentage points annually.
In the past, under the former No Child Left Behind law, a few hundred of the state’s lowest-performing schools were targeted for extra scrutiny and resources, but under Washington’s ESSA plan, the state will identify 800 or 900 schools where groups of students are struggling, Reykdal said. Those schools, he said, will receive extra money and assistance.
“Overall, schools are looking at all students and how they are doing, relative to their entire school population,” said Michaela Miller, deputy superintendent in the state superintendent’s office. “But I think that ESSA will usher in a more intentional focus on how our student subgroups are doing.”