Middle schools show significant improvement in math and science scores in first year of new state assessment tests

Published on: September 01, 2010

Seattle – Continuing the trend of Seattle Public Schools students outperforming the state average, Seattle students’ average scores were nearly 4 points higher than the state average and were at or above the state averages in 17 out of 20 tested subjects and grades, according to test results released today by the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

These results are a remarkable accomplishment given that most large urban school districts typically perform below state averages. In 2010, across all grades tested, Seattle exceeded the state average by 7.3 points in math, 1.7 points in reading, and 4.5 points in science. Charts comparing Seattle results with the state are available at the end of this release.

“We are absolutely committed to providing an excellent education for every student. I am very proud of the hard work and dedication of our students, staff, families, principals and teachers. In the past few years, we have undertaken significant reforms, including curriculum alignment and improved assessment tools for teachers to use as we work to improve student outcomes in every classroom,” said Superintendent Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D. “Annual state tests are one of many measures we use to gauge student learning. Our results this year are particularly strong in middle school math and science, with elementary and high school scores generally tracking with scores from across the state. While we’ve seen narrowing of the achievement gap in limited areas, this persistent gap is intolerable. We are focusing resources where they are needed most to boost academic performance for all students.”

Significant changes in state testing impacted Seattle’s results as the state of Washington transitioned to new state tests (from the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to Measurement of Academic Progress and High School Proficiency Exams). In grades 3-8 math, the math MSP essentially created a new benchmark because it was a new test that assessed new learning standards (requiring a higher threshold to meet standard in grades 3-5), and while scores can be compared to previous years, it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison. If Seattle
students had been assessed using the 2009 learning standards, the percent of students meeting standard in elementary math would have increased by 2.4 points instead of the 3-point drop using the new standards. According to OSPI, the new tests in reading, writing and science can be compared with previous years because the new tests assess the same learning standards as the previous tests and have the same reliability and validity as previous years. That being said, OSPI acknowledged that the reading MSP tests were not adequately shortened to be given in a one-session test.

Districtwide, gains were made for middle schools in math (5.8 points) and in science (8 points). Results decreased by at least 1 point in third-, fifth- and tenth-grade math, fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and tenth-grade reading, fourth-, seventh- and tenth-grade writing and fifth-grade science. Detailed results by grade level, for 2004 through 2010, are included in the table at the end of this release.

Individual schools show improvements

Several schools made significant progress in 2009-10 including David T. Denny International Middle School, Dearborn Park Elementary School and Olympic Hills Elementary School. All three participated in the initial rollout of Seattle’s new school improvement process, where schools receive differentiated support based on their performance.

At Denny International Middle School, students showed excellent progress with significant growth in all subject areas — scores increased by 14.6 points in science, by 14.4 points in math, by 6.3 points in writing, and 4.1 points in reading. The gains can be attributed to a number of factors. Structured, frequent collaboration among teaching staff includes review of data, analysis of student work and jointly planning lessons. Professional development programs, such as the Studio math program, allow teachers to observe and learn from each other. Fifteen community-based organizations support Denny International Middle School students and families in many ways, and home visits to families help promote family involvement in education. Student learning also benefits from an embedded global perspective that is part of the International School curriculum; the fully implemented Readers and Writers Workshop model and collaboration with the feeder elementary schools and Chief Sealth International High School help to create a
seamless K-to-12 pathway to college.

Dearborn Park Elementary School scores increased in three of four subject areas tested, including increases of 10.6 points in reading and 6.7 points in math. There are three major efforts that contributed to the improvements at Dearborn Park — professional development, intervention and intentional instruction. By using the two coaches assigned to the school, weekly staff meetings were tailored to coach teachers on high-leverage teaching moves. The school’s focused intervention for students failing to meet standards or on the cusp of meeting standards, took advantage of bilingual instructional assistants and City Year tutors to assist those students throughout the year. Teachers worked collaboratively to ensure academic success.
Finally, teachers in third, fourth and fifth grades used intentional instruction to create clear teaching points. The result was a targeted focus on teaching, assessing and adjusting instruction to improve academic performance.

Olympic Hills Elementary School scores increased in every subject area tested, including increases of 15.8 points in math, 13.8 points in science, and 10.1 points in reading. Key factors for success include a staff that collaborates in grade-level teams to improve the learning level of each and every child throughout the school year. Olympic Hills piloted the very successful Writers Workshop and last year implemented the Readers Workshop for all grades. The school has built an extensive library that provides “just right” reading materials for each child at his or her current reading level. The school has also begun using the workshop methods from the Readers and Writers program for the math curriculum while increasing the amount of time students spend on math each day to 75 minutes for K-3 and 90 minutes for grades 4 and 5. This school serves as a lab school, inviting in principals and teachers to observe and learn the methods in the Readers
and Writers Workshops.

Other school improvements include:

Catharine Blaine K-8 Middle School scores increased in three of four subject areas tested, including increases of 18.6 points in science, 13.9 points in math, and 9.8 points in reading. The gains at Blaine can be attributed to teachers and staff focusing on every student and meeting their needs. As a small school, regular, planned assessments and the ability to really know each student makes for strong intervention when a student is struggling. For seventh- and eighth-grade students, the same four core teachers stay with the students for both years, strengthening each teacher’s knowledge of each student, which is creating powerful results especially in math. Blaine is also part of the Readers and Writers program providing individual one-to-one interactions between teacher and student, building strong relationships that make a
difference in student progress, and meeting each student where he or she is at with their reading or writing skills.

In elementary math, 80 percent of students met or exceeded standard at a total of 17 elementary/K-8 schools. Despite the new math standards that were more rigorous, several schools achieved significant gains including Schmitz Park (4.2 points), Coe (3.5 points), Wedgwood (2.2 points), and Loyal Heights (1.7 points).

Middle schools make significant gains

Middle schools (including K-8s in grades 6-8) made significant gains in math and science and modest gains in reading. Overall scores in math across all grades increased by 5.8 points and in science by 8 points.

“The gains in middle school math and science show that we are headed in the right direction,” said Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. “Math and science are both key areas of our Strategic Plan, ‘Excellence for All,’ which focuses on specific strategies to improve student success.”

The gains in math represent a long-term trend over the last few years, in which Seattle has gone from being just under the state average to nearly 9 points above it. This improvement can be attributed to a clear strategy around middle school math that has focused on a number of inter-dependent elements including curriculum alignment, instructional materials adoption, external partnerships, instructional coaching and required, sustained Districtwide professional development.

External partnerships with Teachers’ Development Group, the Microsoft Math Partnership and the University of Washington College of Education have been critical to providing a professional development strategy with a focus on improving mathematics instruction. All middle school mathematics teachers participate in Studio Days four times per year; the Studio Days bring teachers from around the district into one another’s classrooms for lesson study and analysis of student learning, as well as professional learning communities guided by coaches, where teachers support one another to improve instructional practice and share best practices. Administrative participation and leadership, both at the school and District level, has also been critical in this focus on mathematics instruction at the middle school level.

In middle school math, over 60 percent of students met standard for the first time. Several schools achieved significant gains including Madrona K-8 (14.7 points), Catharine Blaine K-8 (13.9 points), South Shore K-8 (12.5 points), Pathfinder K-8 (9.9 points), and Mercer Middle School (9.6 points).

In middle school science, over 60 percent of students met standard for the first time. Several schools achieved significant gains including Pathfinder K-8 (30 points), Catharine Blaine K-8 (18.6 points), David T. Denny International Middle School (14.6 points), Madison Middle School (13.3 points), and Mercer Middle School (10.5 points).

Work continues to close the achievement gap

While moderate gains continue to be made in narrowing the achievement gap between white students and students of color at some grade levels, Seattle Public Schools will maintain its focus on efforts to close the gap and ensure that every student is successful. Teachers, staff and administrators are dedicated to raising achievement for all students by providing the increased support and instruction for our children who need it the most.

“The gains made in closing the achievement gap at the middle school level are a move in the right direction. I am proud of the years of focus and effort that have been made by a dedicated team and strong leadership throughout the district,” said Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. “But we are not done. We remain sober about how much work remains to reach our goal of ensuring an excellent education for every student.”

There was some success at closing the achievement gap in math:
• The achievement gap in math decreased for most students of color at the middle school level and increased at the high school level. It also decreased at the elementary level but this was due more to an overall drop in scores in elementary math.
• At fourth grade, the gap in math decreased by 8 points for Asian students and 8 points for Hispanic students. At seventh grade, the gap in math decreased by 4 points for Asian students, 9 points for Black students, and 2 points for Hispanic students.
• The gap in math widened for Native American students in fourth grade (-4 points) and seventh grade (-1 point), for Asian students at tenth grade (-1 point), for Black students at tenth grade (-2 points), and for Hispanic students at tenth grade (-5 points).
• Based on 2010 results, the achievement gap in math ranges between 6 points and 55 points, depending on the grade level and group tested.

There was some success at closing the achievement gap in science:
• The achievement gap in science decreased for most students of color at the middle school and high school levels as overall scores increased at both levels. It also decreased at the elementary level but this was due more to an overall drop in scores in elementary science.
• At eighth grade, the gap in science decreased by 10 points for Hispanic students and 9.8 points for Native American students. At tenth grade, the gap in science decreased by 1.4 points for Black students and 2.3 points for Native American students.
• The gap in science widened for Native American students in fifth grade (-4.5 points), Asian students in tenth grade (-3.9 points), and Hispanic students in tenth grade (-6.1 points).
• The achievement gap in science based on 2010 results, ranges between 15 points and 50 points, depending on the grade level and group tested.

The achievement gap continued in reading.
• With a few exceptions, reading scores reflected an increase in the achievement gap.
• The gap narrowed in reading for Black students in seventh grade (6 points).
• The gap in reading increased for most groups in fourth grade and tenth grade.
• The achievement gap in reading, based on 2010 results, ranges between 13 points and 41 points, depending on the grade level and group tested.

The achievement gap continued in writing, with limited gains in some groups and grade levels.
• From 2009 to 2010, the gap in writing narrowed by 4 points for Hispanic students in fourth grade. Gains were also made for Native American students of 5 points in seventh grade and 4 points in tenth grade.
• The gap in math widened for Asian students at fourth grade (-2 points), for Native American students at 4th grade (-3 points), and for Hispanic students at tenth grade (-6 points).
• Based on 2010 results, the achievement gap in writing ranges from less than 0 points to 31 points, depending on the grade level and group tested.

Class of 2010
Seattle Public Schools is making significant progress toward graduating every student ready for college, careers and life. Class of 2010 seniors continued to exceed state performance on the WASL, according to results released by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Specifically, Seattle results show 90.9 percent of the class of 2010 met or exceeded standards compared to a state average of 92.9 percent. This is a decrease of more than three points compared to the SPS class of 2009 seniors, which had 94.3 percent of the class meeting or exceeding standard.

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