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Ridgefield High School students, from left, Brittani Hauzen, Madison Laycoe, Samantha Bright and Jenica Mattila, all 15, compare class schedules Wednesday on the first day of school.
Students and staff make their way to class during the first day of school Wednesday at Ridgefield High School. State standardized test results were released the same day.
Students make their way to class during the first day of school at Ridgefield High School Wednesday, the same day last spring's standardized test results were released.
Public school students’ scores on standardized tests continue to edge up, both in Clark County and statewide. The most consistent gains were in math and science, according to spring 2012 test results released Wednesday.
“Students are continuing to make progress,” said Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement. “Science and math scores are up in almost every grade. Those trends are due to the great work that our science and math teachers do every day, and the fact that we have new standards that are clear and address what students need now and in the future.”
State tests include Measurements of Student Progress for grades 3-8 in reading, writing, math and science; High School Proficiency Exams in reading and writing, and secondary End-of-Course exams in math and biology.
Science and math have been a focus for the state Office of Public Instruction and local schools, as those subjects have been an Achilles’ heel for both the state and nation.
Passing rates in fifth-grade science climbed 10.4 percentage points statewide, from 55.7 percent in 2011 to 66.1 percent in 2012. In eighth-grade science, 61.6 percent passed in 2011, compared with 66.3 percent in 2012.
“This is the second year students have been tested on the new science standards, and what we’re seeing is that students are learning the new standards,” Dorn said in the statement. “I also think schools are placing an increased emphasis on science at the earlier grades, and it’s paying off in test scores.”
Vancouver, the county’s second-largest school district, was a microcosm of the state trend. Mike Stromme, Vancouver’s associate superintendent of teaching and learning, said he was pleased with progress in science scores, a leap of nearly 13 percentage points in the fifth grade and three percentage points in the eighth grade. The district also progressed in math and reading.
New biology exam
As of this year, 10th graders were required to take the biology EOC in place of the science HSPE. About 61 percent passed the new exam. Dorn characterized that passing rate as “encouraging,” given that just 49.9 percent of students passed the former science test, the HSPE, in 2011.
In the county, high school biology passing rates were 59.6 percent in the Battle Ground district, 63.4 percent in Vancouver, 65.1 percent in Ridgefield, 69.5 percent in Evergreen, 72 percent in Washougal, 72.7 percent in Camas, 73.3 percent in Hockinson, and 74.2 percent in La Center.
Bruce Kelley, Battle Ground’s executive director of school improvement, said biology scores need to be higher. But now that schools have a year’s worth of scores, staff can focus on inching up students’ performance in that subject, Kelley said. One drawback of the new test is that it’s limited to biology, he said.
“Some students might have a passion for the physical or earth sciences and not so much interest in the biological sciences,” Kelley said. “... Based on the EOC tests, we don’t know what the kids are learning in the other sciences.”
Strides in math
Statewide, passing rates for math improved at every grade level, except for fourth grade, which remained the same, Dorn said.
Eighth-grade math scores rose by 5 percentage points, from 50.4 percent passing in 2011 to 55.4 percent in 2012.
Vancouver’s assessment director, Anna Hogan, said the district has been giving students assessments three times per year in math and science in order to fill gaps in students’ knowledge and skills before the state test.
Wednesday’s results mark the second year of scores for a new math exam required for graduation — the EOC, which started with the Class of 2013. The exam replaced the math HSPE.
In Clark County, a greater percentage of secondary students passed math EOC exams this year, compared with 2011. All of the county’s districts, except Washougal and Woodland, exceeded the state average for passing, which was 71 percent for Algebra I and 79.1 percent for geometry. Battle Ground and Camas did particularly well. Battle Ground had passing rates of 80.4 percent in Algebra I and 90.0 percent in geometry; Camas had 85.4 percent pass Algebra I and 91.2 percent pass geometry. Students take the math EOC exam the same year they take Algebra I or geometry, which can be any time between grades 6 and 10.
“The EOC examinations are much better than the HSPE because the students are being taught all year on the topics on which they’ll be tested, instead of getting a general test covering several years of math concepts,” Kelley said.
Dorn said the change in math testing has helped to boost scores because the knowledge is still fresh in students’ minds when they take the exam. The improved scores are not because the exam is easier, he said.
“It’s more difficult,” he said, adding that he would probably need a tutor to pass the exam himself.
Students scheduled to graduate in 2013 can take the math exam again in the spring if they failed this year.
Reading and writing
Statewide, 10th-graders continued a strong performance in reading and writing. About 79.6 percent passed reading, and 83 percent passed writing. All of Clark County’s schools exceeded those state averages and, for the most part, also exceeded state averages in grades 3-8.
Stromme said he expected to see progress in scores to help boost 2012 graduation rates. Those rates are due for release later in the fall, Stromme said.
Wednesday’s test results kicked off a new school year for students in Woodland, La Center, Hockinson and Ridgefield. The Stevenson-Carson School District begins today. Camas and Washougal districts welcome pupils Tuesday. The county’s three big districts — Evergreen, Vancouver and Battle Ground — are last in line on Sept. 5.
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