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Gaps Continue in State Test Results; More Work Ahead

Test scores mirror results from other states

OLYMPIA — September 7, 2017 — Results from spring 2017 state tests show continued gaps in a number of areas, according to data released today by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

“State tests are a good dipstick,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “They let us see a point in time, and they show us where things are going well and where improvement is needed. Most important, this year’s results are showing us that large gaps exist in subject areas, in race and ethnicity, and in poverty and mobility. And those gaps are telling us that we have a lot of work to do.”

Federal law requires that, beginning in 2006, students in grades 3-8 and in high school take state tests each year. During spring 2017, students took the following state tests:

  • Grades 3-8 and high school: Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts (ELA),
  • Grades 5 and 8: Measurements of Student Progress in science, and
  • Grade 10: end-of-course tests in biology.

Gaps between ELA and math

Washington test scores in 2017 mirror patterns in states that use the Smarter Balanced tests. In ELA, only seventh grade saw improvement from 2016. In math, sixth and seventh grade scores improved slightly.

Those results are similar to states that have released their state test scores, which in general show slight decreases in most grades in ELA.

“We expect more from our students as they mature,” Reykdal said. “The data show that our students are meeting that challenge in ELA, and they are making progress.

“But math continues to be a problem – one that’s not exclusive to Washington. For decades our country has struggled with math, particularly as students approach middle and high school. It is critical to student success that we get this problem solved.”

Gaps between groups of students

State results also show that significant achievement gaps remain. (The phrase refers to the difference between scores of historically higher performing groups of students compared to historically underserved students.)

“The gaps are still a substantial concern,” Reykdal said.

Josh Garcia, Deputy Superintendent at Tacoma Public Schools, said that highlighting achievement gaps is a chief benefit of state tests because it forces honest conversations. “Owning that we have achievement gaps is critical to educating all students,” he said. He cautioned against reading too much into the scores. “A single test score is not the sole determination of the mastery of a subject,” Garcia said. “In Tacoma, we’re using multiple measures to get honest and transparent results to communities about each school’s performance.”

Gaps between students of poverty and mobile students

New analysis by OSPI shows that poverty and mobility also play a key role in student achievement on the tests.

“We know that gaps exist between groups of students,” Reykdal said. “But when you add poverty, the gaps become much more pronounced. And when students move from district to district, their education is often disrupted. That shows in test scores.”

Nearly all students at M.L. King Jr. Elementary in the Yakima School district are within the poverty line, said the school’s principal, Maria Villalovos-Lucero. “This year I asked all staff to conduct at least one home visit,” she said. “We already do that for kindergartners, but I thought we should expand it to first through fifth grades. It’s one thing to read about poverty; it’s another to see it and feel it and know where your students are going after school.”

Villalovos-Lucero believes that looking at data in detail helps capture all students. “All students need something a little different,” she said. “When we analyze data, we want to make sure we look at subgroups. About 65 percent of our population are English language learners. One question we ask is, ‘How do ELL students fare compared to non-ELL students?’”

State to submit federal education plan

Reykdal said the analysis on gaps is critical this year. On Sept. 18, he will submit the state’s education plan to the U.S. Department of Education, as required by the new Every Student Succeeds Act. The plan, required of all states, outlines how districts and schools will narrow their gaps and gauge success with all students in all groups.

Reykdal noted that the work leading up to the state’s submission included multiple measures of student success. “We’ve spent more than a year looking at many indicators,” he said, “such as progress in achieving English language proficiency and finding out how many ninth grade students in each school are on track to graduate on time.

“I believe testing plays an important role in education, but there are other critical indicators we need to include in our achievement index, including chronic absenteeism,” Reykdal continued.

“The dip in scores this year is no reason to panic – it confirms the work we have ahead of us. It’s only the third year of the new tests, and some districts are still working on fully implementing the standards that these assessments measure.”

Principal Villalovos-Lucero also stressed a deeper look at student achievement. “I keep reminding my staff that state tests are not the only measure,” she said. “They definitely glean some important information.

"We’ll keep looking at the Smarter Balanced tests and at a variety of assessments in a strategic, systematic way to monitor student learning.”

For more information


About OSPI
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K–12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Chris Reykdal, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine educational service districts to administer basic education programs and improve student achievement on behalf of more than one million public school students.

OSPI provides equal access to all programs and services without discrimination based on sex, race, creed, religion, color, national origin, age, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. Questions and complaints of alleged discrimination should be directed to the Equity and Civil Rights Director at (360) 725-6162 or P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504-7200.

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Nathan Olson
Communications Manager
(360) 725-6015 |

The OSPI Communications Office serves as the central point of contact for local, regional and national media covering K-12 education issues.

Communications Manager
Nathan Olson
(360) 725-6015


   Updated 9/7/2017

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