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Originally published Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Washington students improve math, science scores

Statewide test results released Tuesday show more Washington state students are passing their math and science exams. The state's graduation rate also continues to improve, but federal No Child Left Behind requirements continue to pose problems.

Associated Press

quotes Or - another plausible explanation - they just decided to make the exam easier. Read more
quotes How exactly have the scores improved? Until 100% of the children pass the reading, wri... Read more
quotes Not so fast... how can the SPI Dorn claim the scores of improved IF the tests changed... Read more

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Statewide test results released Tuesday show more Washington state students are passing their math and science exams. The state's graduation rate also continues to improve, but federal No Child Left Behind requirements continue to pose problems.

Much of the improvement in math scores can be attributed to Washington's new math learning requirements, which teachers and students have quickly embraced, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

"I give our state's educators a lot of credit. This has been a statewide effort, from the people who wrote the new math standards to those who teach our students," Dorn said.

In addition to cumulative testing in reading, writing and science, last school year students took new end-of-course exams for algebra and geometry and those scores are available for the first time. It appears they are doing better on the new exams than students did on the cumulative high school math exam previously offered.

Most elementary and middle school students also are doing better on their math tests, and science scores are improving as well.

Dorn said teachers gave him two reasons why high school math test results have improved: The state's new math learning requirements are clearer, and students like taking the exams at the end of the classes where they learned the material rather than a more general test during their sophomore year in high school when algebra and geometry could be a distant memory.

Math scores in grades 3-8 increased in every grade except eighth, and some of the improvements were somewhat dramatic. For example, fifth graders in 2011 did 7.6 percent better on the statewide math tests and 21.6 percent better on the science test than did last year's fifth graders. Sixth graders showed similar improvements.

"We have made math a high priority in this state, so it's gratifying to see the improvement," Dorn said.

Graduation rates also continued their upward climb of the past few years, even though the state this year is starting to report graduation rates based on the National Governors' Association formula, which compares the number of graduates with the number of students who started in ninth grade and corrects for transfers in and out of a school.

The on-time graduation rate for the class of 2010 was 72.7 percent, compared to 71.6 percent the previous year. The school year for the class of 2011 ends Aug. 31, and those graduation numbers will not be available until later in the fall.

Dorn emphasized the extended graduation rate, which includes kids who take an extra year to finish high school. The extended graduation rate in Washington reached 80.7 percent for the class of 2010.

What hasn't improved is the number of schools failing to make adequate yearly progress, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Preliminary figures show 1,388 Washington schools were on that list in 2011, an increase of about 200 schools from 2010.

A total of 223 school districts - out of 295 in the state - failed to make adequate yearly progress in 2011.

To make adequate yearly progress, a certain percentage of students in a school or district must pass the state's reading and math tests each year.

The results are broken down by ethnic group and poverty level and if one category of students fails to meet its goals, the whole school fails - which explains how test scores can improve generally, without meeting the measurements imposed by No Child Left Behind.

By 2014, all states are required to have a goal that all students in all schools pass the reading and math tests imposed by No Child Left Behind.

The way the law is written, Dorn said, "a school or district could have 99 percent of its students at proficiency and still be deemed as needing improvement. This is a highly flawed law."

However, 35 schools, including three in the Puyallup District, worked their way off the improvement list this year, according to education officials. Dorn said they made progress with lots of hard work.

The secret to their success is a lot of hard work and plenty of data and informal assessments throughout the school year to help teachers figure out what every kid needs to improve, said Nancy Arnold, director of assessment and accountability in Puyallup.

Congress has been debating changes in No Child Left Behind law for years.

This summer, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced President Barack Obama has authorized him to grant the waivers for the requirements of the federal law because Congress has failed to act on a long-overdue rewrite.

Schools will get some relief from looming deadlines to meet testing goals as long as they agree to embrace other kinds of education reforms such as raising standards, helping teachers and principals improve, and focusing on fixing the lowest performing schools. Details on the waivers will be provided to districts next month.

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