New state math exam, same old result

Post-WASL era begins with 42.5% passing rate




A new year, a new name for the springtime exam.

But statewide test scores for Washington state 10th graders released on Wednesday add up much the same as before: An alarmingly high failure rate for math.

Of 10th graders taking the HSPE, 78 percent passed the reading portion, and 83.5 percent the writing portion, according to preliminary results announced by state school Superintendent Randy Dorn.

That’s pretty much in line with final 10th-grade state WASL pass rates in 2008 and 2009: About 81-82 percent in reading, 87 percent in writing.

Not officially recorded until autumn, the final numbers reflect revised and corrected individual and district results, including students who make their first or second exam attempt during summer. Local educators expect reading and writing scores to edge higher again.

But math remains a bugaboo: Just 42.5 percent of 10th-graders passed the HSPE math portion this April.

While the autumn number may creep nearer to 2009’s 45.4 percent pass mark, the 2008 pass rate of 49.6 percent appears well out of reach.

And that’s troubling to Dorn and other educators. State benchmarks call for 90 percent of the class of 2013 — next year’s 10th-graders — to meet math standards by graduation time.

That would be double the 2009 pass rate.

“I’m not confident that will happen,” Dorn said. “This state has done well with its reading and writing curriculum. We’ve got to raise math to that level.”

Much changes for students next year. Washington will introduce end-of-course exams for algebra and geometry classes taken by most students in eighth and ninth grades. (Some schools instead will offer two-part, integrated algebra-and-geometry courses, based on integrated math textbooks).

For most students, passing those exams and successfully completing a mandatory third year of math will be required for a full-fledged diploma. There’s deep worry, especially with school budget cuts that have lopped teaching positions and increased class size.

Dorn might again lobby state legislators for more rule changes and delays, but local school districts intend to press on.

“(Math) is our focus for improvement next year, it is our big initiative,” said Chriss Burgess, Vancouver Public Schools curriculum director. Meanwhile, the state Board of Education and districts statewide have labored the past few years to better align learning standards to math curriculum and testing.

In Vancouver schools, 39.6 percent of 10th graders passed the math HSPE taken in April, Burgess said. (The Evergreen district reported a preliminary pass rate of 36 percent.)

Demise of the Washington Assessment of State Learning (WASL) was no secret to students in recent years. Lack of urgency may have lingered still, but that’s no solace, Burgess said. “We have more work to do. We’re not laying blame at the test’s door,” she said.

Weary but ‘engaged’

With one notable exception, Burgess and her Evergreen and Battle Ground school peers found the switch to the HSPE mostly a smooth one.

Promised as shorter and more focused than the oft-maligned WASL, the HSPE took much longer for students to complete than expected, officials said. Other than a two-day writing portion, test sections were kept to a single day each. But many students labored long past the old two-hour test window, right into lunchtime or beyond.

“They seemed to be engaged, but they were awfully tired by the time they finished,” said Karen Weintraub, assessment director for Evergreen schools.

Like Burgess, Weintraub wouldn’t assign any impact to the exam itself, while she awaits the adjusted results.

The preliminary Evergreen test numbers show 2 percent more 10th-graders passing the reading portion than the year before, and 4 percent more passing the writing portion (the math pass rate dropped 2 percent).

Vancouver district results for all three subjects were “flat,” Burgess said — “a disappointment, because all of our people are working so hard, especially at the high school level.”

Under current law, 2013 graduates also must pass the HSPE science section. No science results were issued on Wednesday, but they’ve historically lagged behind even math scores.

It wasn’t all bad news.

For a third straight year, more than 90 percent of 2010 seniors had passed the state reading and writing exams prior to graduation. Cumulative pass rates were 94 percent each, same as in 2009.

The percentage of 12th graders to pass the math component slid from 73 percent to 69 percent, however.

All district- and school-specific scores will be released (for all grades) by early September. For more:

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or