Clark County school districts have done little to move the needle on state testing. Results released this week show that the percentage of students passing Smarter Balanced tests locally and statewide has largely remained flat.
Statewide, 59.6 percent and 48.9 percent of students passed language arts and math assessments, respectively. Washington saw a miniscule uptick in students passing the English exam compared to last year — about a fifth of a percentage point. Students passing the math test declined slightly, by about six-tenths of a percentage point.
Superintendent Chris Reykdal describes the plateauing results as a “double-edged sword.”
“On one hand, it means our educational system is maintaining the gains we have made,” he said in a news release. “On the other, it means achievement gaps between student groups are continuing to persist.”
Schools statewide and in Clark County continue to see significant gaps in passing rates between low-income students and their non-low-income peers. In Evergreen Public Schools, for example, 64 percent and 52.6 percent of non-low-income students passed the English and math exams, respectively. Meanwhile, 37.2 percent of low-income students passed the language arts test, while 27.6 percent of those students passed the math test.
Bill Oman, chief academic officer for the school district, said Evergreen is focused on closing gaps for all students who are falling behind. Overall, 49.7 percent of students passed English tests in the district, and 39.3 percent of students passed the math exam.
“We want to be able to better support and connect with all of our students,” Oman said. “If we don’t provide a safe classroom environment, we’re going to be hard pressed to help them meet those benchmarks.”
In neighboring Vancouver Public Schools, 52.6 percent of students passed English exams, while 42.2 percent passed the math assessment. The district saw similar gaps for low-income students: 37.5 percent passed English exams and 27 percent passed math exams. For non-low-income students, 69.8 percent passed English tests and 59.3 passed math tests.
Chris Olsen, executive director of teaching and learning for the school district, said she was taking a “glass half-full” look at the test scores.
“We’re holding steady,” she said.
Olsen noted that the district has prioritized giving teachers time to work together and collaborate on student needs and problems in an effort to improve classroom learning and, by extension, test scores. The district will “stay the course” on that strategy, she said.
“When teachers work together tightly, they have the opportunity to talk to each other about strategies for working and engaging all students,” she said.
Washington has eliminated the requirement that students pass these tests in order to graduate. Under House Bill 1599, sponsored by state Reps. Monica Stonier and Paul Harris of Vancouver, students can use passing scores on the tests or one of seven other markers of academic progress in order to qualify for graduation.
It’s the type of policy work Reykdal believes is more important in determining whether students are ready for life after high school rather than the snapshot in time the state testing provides.
“I’m going to focus on the end goal, which is: Can we get every student graduated and can we get them post-secondary prepared?” Reykdal said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Still, the test results are used to measure how students and the public education system overall are performing, and the state has set a high bar for itself in increasing the number of students passing the English language arts assessment.
In the state’s Consolidated Plan, a federal requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction calls for 90 percent of students to pass the test by 2027. That means there’s a lot of ground to cover in the next seven years of testing for most Clark County school districts. Thus far, one group of students in Clark County has met that goal: 92 percent of students who identify as Asian in the Camas School District passed this year’s language arts exam.