Nooksack Valley School District made big gains on state tests this year, beating state averages in just about every subject and surpassing its scores from the previous year.
The news was good for Lynden and Bellingham school districts as well, as scores from the Measurements of Student Progress, High School Proficiency Exam and "end of course" exams were released Wednesday, Aug. 29.
Students in grades 3 through 8 take the reading and math MSP, with select grades taking the writing and science tests. High school students, generally in 10th grade, take the HSPE in reading and writing, and end-of-course tests in algebra, geometry and biology.
Individual student results will be out to parents by mid- to late-September.
Throughout the state, some of the biggest drops happened in third grade, especially in reading, and that trend stayed true locally as well. State education officials remain puzzled by the drop.
Officials at Bellingham School District plan to keep an eye on those numbers, said Brian Rick, director of research and assessment. He described third-grade scores as flat, but said they are just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to education.
"It's nothing that's too alarming," he said.
Some of the biggest gains statewide and in local schools occurred in seventh-grade reading. Rick said that bodes well for those low third-grade scores: Last year, seventh grade had an unexplained decrease in students passing, and this year most districts in Whatcom County experienced double-digit increases in seventh-grade reading.
"Some of these fluctuations from one year to the next we have to ride out a little bit and let some trends show themselves," Rick said.
Science scores for high schools couldn't fairly be compared to last year, because this was the first time students had to take an end-of-course exam for biology. Though the tests are different, high schools throughout Whatcom County had more students pass the new biology exam than the old science test. The new test had to be taken by 10th grade, so some students may have taken the test before taking a biology class.
This year, test results will form a part of the state's Annual Measurable Objectives assessment. It's the new evaluation system to replace the much-maligned Adequately Yearly Progress standard.
Two Whatcom County schools have already been named "reward" schools, the best category under the new evaluation: Bellingham's Sunnyland Elementary and Nooksack Valley's Sumas Elementary have been in the top 10 percent for reading and math for the last three years.
Sumas is motivated to remain a reward school, said Cindy Stockwell, assistant superintendent for Nooksack Valley.
"It's a great achievement for Sumas," she said. "They've been working really hard on bringing all their students up to standard, and the fact that they're a reward school is evidence that they've been able to do that."
Below is a brief look at how each district performed on the tests.
Bellingham had a higher percentage of students passing in every grade and every subject districtwide than the state averages, with science scores significantly higher, in the mid-70s to low 80s.
Compared to its scores in the 2010-11 school year, the district had more students passing math and writing in all but one grade, with reading results mixed.
"I'm happy to see we have some gains across subjects and across grade levels," Rick said.
There were some dramatic double-digit drops for third-graders in reading and math at Larrabee, Carl Cozier and Columbia, with smaller decreases in reading at Geneva, Lowell, Alderwood and Wade King. Roosevelt's third-graders also scored a few points lower this year on reading, but the school made significant gains in math, science and writing.
Happy Valley bucked the trend with scores in the mid-80s to low 90s and increases everywhere but fourth-grade math and reading. Northern Heights and Sunnyland also surpassed the majority of last year's reading scores, with double-digit increases in science at both schools.
Fairhaven Middle School had increases in all subjects except eighth-grade math. At Kulshan, seventh-graders saw increases across the board, while Shuksan had mixed results with reading and math.
Bellingham and Sehome high schools improved in math, with drops in reading and writing. Squalicum saw gains in all categories, with the largest in its end-of-course math exams.
Districtwide, fewer students passed reading and math in third, fifth and sixth grade this year, with decreases in science and in seventh- and 10th-grade writing.
Blaine Elementary School had double-digit drops in the number of third-graders passing reading and math, though more fourth-graders passed reading and writing.
The middle school experienced drops from last year in all but seventh-grade reading and eighth-grade math, though in general the school's reading scores and some of its math scores were better than the state average.
At the high school, there was a decline in the number of students passing reading, writing and end-of-course geometry, though algebra was up 8.3 points over last year. With 74.4 percent of students passing algebra and 81.6 percent passing end-of-course biology, the school surpassed state averages for those exams.
Ferndale School District made strides in math, with more students passing districtwide in all but third and fourth grade and the end-of-course geometry exam.
Superintendent Linda Quinn said the district has focused on instruction the past three years and is starting to see that work pay off.
"We've had a lot of focus in math," Quinn said. "It's good to see that where we're putting our focus, we're seeing results."
At Cascadia, the percentage of third-graders passing reading and math was down from last year, but fifth- and six-graders saw gains in all subjects.
At Central, reading was down in all grades, but students made big improvements in math, writing and science. Math scores jumped by 8.5 to 16 points from last year.
Results were mixed for reading and math at Custer and Eagleridge. Mountain View saw dips in reading but increased the percentage of students passing math, writing and science. Skyline bucked the trend with increases in reading at every grade level.
At Horizon Middle School, more seventh-graders passed reading, writing and math. Vista Middle School improved in every subject except eighth-grade reading. For the second year, 100 percent of students who took end-of-course algebra passed at both middle schools.
Ferndale High improved its end-of-course math scores, with more students passing algebra and geometry this year by at least 5.6 points.
Lummi high school and tribal elementary remained far below state averages, but they had increases in fourth- and seventh-grade reading, math and writing, and in their end-of-course algebra exams. For algebra, the percentage of students who passed was up to 30.2 from the previous year's 13.8.
While third-graders throughout the state and the county passed the reading tests at a lower rate this year, that wasn't the case in Lynden. With 82.4 percent of district third-graders passing reading and 77.6 percent passing math, the district was well ahead of the state averages and surpassed its scores from the previous year.
The challenge appeared to be in fourth grade, where the district was a little behind state numbers and the number of students passing dropped significantly from the year before.
Students at Fisher Elementary made gains in reading and science but struggled in math and writing. Isom had similar results, but improved its writing from last year by 8 points. At Bernice Vossbeck, fifth-graders improved across the board. All three schools exceeded state averages in nearly all grades and subjects.
Students at Lynden Middle School improved in every grade and every subject compared to last year. Reading scores jumped by 4.2 to 12.5 points into the low to high 70s, and science jumped more than 10 points to 75 percent of fifth-graders passing.
At Lynden High, fewer students passed reading and writing, but 91.8 percent of 10th-graders still passed the writing exam. More students passed the end-of-course math exams this year than last, with the number passing algebra up by 13.8 points to 72.5 percent.
The district made improvements over last year in reading, math and science, though writing scores took a tumble this year.
As in the other districts, fewer third-graders from Irene Reither Primary School passed their reading and math tests, with reading down 12.6 points. At Ten Mile Elementary, the news was all good, with more students passing just about every subject in every grade.
At Meridian Middle School, scores improved for everything but sixth-grade reading and seventh-grade writing, which decreased by 20.4 points from last year to have 54.4 percent of students passing this year.
The school had big gains in seventh-grade reading - up by 26.5 points - and eighth-grade math - up by 19.6 points.
Meridian High experienced gains in reading and math, with a 17.9 point jump in students passing end-of-course algebra.
Reading improved districtwide in all grades but third and sixth, and there were increases in the number of students passing fourth- and 10th-grade writing, as well as science.
At Acme Elementary, the biggest gains were in third-grade math - the percentage of students passing increased by 11.3 points to 54.2 percent - and fourth-grade reading, where the score increased by a whopping 26.6 points to 78.9 percent.
Though fewer students passed reading in about half of the grades at Harmony and Kendall, fourth-graders made improvements in all subjects. Science scores rocketed up by 33.7 points for Harmony's fifth-graders, and by 17.3 points at Kendall.
At Mount Baker Junior High, eighth grade was the standout, with more students passing all subjects than last year.
The high school had a higher percentage of students passing in all subjects, with increases of 4.5 to 9.6 points. The school had better results than state numbers in everything except biology, which 61.9 percent of students passed.
Nooksack Valley School District had more students passing than the state average in all subjects except eighth-grade math, which was within a percentage point of the state score. It also improved its percentage of students passing math compared to last year in every grade but eighth.
Everson Elementary had decreases in third- and fifth-grade reading, but experienced improvement everywhere else. At Nooksack Elementary, though, more students passed reading in every grade; this year almost 90 to 95 percent of students were passing the test.
At Nooksack Valley Middle School, more students passed in every subject except eighth-grade reading and seventh-grade writing.
Nooksack Valley High followed the trend of high schools throughout the county, with reading and writing down slightly and more students passing both end-of-year math exams.
The district has been focusing on instruction, working on keeping students engaged in their work and assessing students in a variety of ways to make sure they understand what is being taught, said assistant superintendent Stockwell.
"Looking at these results is just one piece of the work. We make sure we put our eye on as many aspects of student achievement as possible," she said. "The day to day in the classroom is as key, if not more, than looking at end-of-year assessments."
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