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Originally published August 27, 2014 at 3:27 PM | Page modified August 28, 2014 at 5:53 AM

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Seattle school under review for big jump in state test results

Washington’s public-school students are doing about as well on state tests as they have done over the past few years, but a dramatic jump in the passing rates at Beacon Hill International School in Seattle is now under review.

The Seattle Times and The Associated Press

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The state’s annual release of test data for its public schools on Wednesday showed the typical ups and downs from the previous year’s scores with no significant changes.

But one Seattle elementary school’s performance has raised a red flag: Beacon Hill International School.

Passage rates in math and reading at Beacon Hill increased so much compared with 2013 that they are now under review by the state.

The district said it discovered the spike while reviewing preliminary data earlier this month, and asked the state to do the review.

It was the only such anomaly reported by any district in the state this year, according to Nathan Olson, spokesman for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). He said the review should take a few weeks.

Cheating is only one of several possible reasons why the school’s test results, which have not been posted, rose so dramatically.

State officials are “trying to find out if there’s an innocent explanation for what the anomalies might be,” Olson said.

The K-5 elementary school is one of Seattle’s nine international schools and offers immersion programs where students spend half the day taking classes in Spanish and Mandarin and the other half in English.

Aside from reading and math, the school showed a decline in fourth-grade writing and improvement in fifth-grade science.

In general, Seattle was pleased with its test results, which were higher than the state average in almost every subject.

Statewide, public-school students are doing about as well on state tests as they have done over the past few years. Yet at the same time, many more schools are failing to meet federal standards because the rules have changed.

On Wednesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn called those federal requirements crazy.

Washington had a two-year reprieve from some requirements of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, and then in April the federal government withdrew the waiver and forced Washington to go back to the old system. More than 1,900 schools out of about 2,200 in Washington were labeled as failing in 2014 because of the No Child Left Behind system.

The biggest changes on Washington test scores this year were a drop of 5.9 percent in the number of seventh-graders who passed the math exam and an increase of 5.4 percent in the number of eighth-graders who met the reading standard.

Across the state, eighth-grade and sixth-grade classes did better on every test than their counterparts did last year. Significant improvements also were recorded on the high-school biology and algebra tests.

And more than 90 percent of the students in the class of 2014 passed the tests they needed to graduate, and Washington’s graduation rate has reached about 80 percent.

Yet when the scores are examined by ethnic group, Washington kids who are Hispanic, Native American, black, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander continue to trail well behind their white and Asian classmates. Progress on closing the achievement gaps was mixed.

Next year, most students will switch to a new set of tests known as Smarter Balanced, which are tied to the Common Core learning standards that most states have agreed to use.

The state also has promised to do a more thorough job investigating possible cheating, and not just rely on districts to report anomalies, as Seattle did this year.

The Inspector General’s office at the U.S. Department of Education, among others, has urged all states to do such analyses.

Before it lost its federal waiver, Washington was among 43 states and the District of Columbia that had been granted one — a temporary measure while the U.S. Department of Education works with Congress to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law.

Dorn said it isn’t fair that Washington schools have to pay the price for rules that should be changed by Congress and he’s frustrated that the Legislature has not been willing or able to pass a law that would get Washington’s waiver back.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has told Washington it can have its waiver back as soon as it changes its teacher-evaluation system to include student achievement on statewide academic tests as a factor in judging teachers.

Dorn said he will be pushing the Legislature again next year to make that change, which failed to pass during the 2014 legislative session.

Seattle Public Schools believes its unique agreement with the teachers union over the use of test scores in evaluations satisfies the requirement, and its officials have asked Duncan to reinstate the waiver for its own schools, but they are still waiting for an answer.

John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or On Twitter @jhigginsST

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