His office is full of them. On his desk, on the floor and in his bookcases are boxes, files and folders full of data. Ask him at random for the test results of any of his roughly 1,700 students by name, and within less than a minute he can produce multiple sheets of paper outlining their performance. Not only can he tell you the scores of any given student, he can tell you their sub scores and areas where they need to improve.
By any account, Hoquiam Schools Superintendent Mike Parker may seem like a man obsessed. His attention to detail when it comes to the minutia of test scores is at once impressive and intimidating. But it shows the efforts that today’s educators in the county go through to improve test scores. It also shows the difficulties they face. Despite Parker’s efforts, and the efforts of administrators and educators throughout the county, test scores for most schools in the county for the 2011-2012 academic year lagged behind state averages.
Area educators, however, while noting the need overall for better scores, say their focus isn’t so much on the final score in each category as much as it is improvement over time.
“What we are looking for on the district level are trends across the board. And when I look at it from the previous year I see trends pointing upward and especially in math,” said Tom Opstad, superintendent of Aberdeen Schools, who added that the district has been up in every category.
Despite improvements, in some cases, this year’s test results were stark, with three school districts in the county — Aberdeen, Lake Quinault and Taholah — testing below the state average for every single testing grade, in every subject category. Three other districts — Hoquiam, North Beach and McCleary — narrowly performed better, scoring above the state averages in only one grade and subject category each. The Aberdeen School District scored significantly below the state averages in the areas of seventh and eighth grade math, along with seventh grade writing, eighth grade science and the “End of Course” biology test. In all those categories, less than half the students met the standard. Also, in those same categories, the Aberdeen District scored from 8.9 to 23 percent below the state average. The lowest score for Aberdeen was for End of Course biology, with 40 percent meeting standard. The worst test performance for the schools came from the Taholah School District. Not only did the district fail to meet the state average in any testing category for any grade, the percentage of students who met the standard was markedly low, with no students meeting the standard for sixth and seventh grade math, fourth grade reading and fifth grade science.
Some districts when compared to the state average did very well. Willapa Valley outscored the state in nine testing and grade categories. In three categories, they scored 90 percent or more, vastly outstripping the performance across the state. In tenth grade writing, 96 percent of Willapa Valley students met the standard compared to a state average of 85 percent. After Valley, the closest highest performers were the Cosmopolis, Montesano and South Bend school districts. Each outperformed the state average in six subject-grade level categories.
Rob Friese, superintendent of the Willapa Valley School District, is very happy with the results. He credits the success to an “extremely caring staff” who used a data-driven approach to teaching, where test scores are analyzed for each student and those in need are given extra instruction. The effort is something done in small increments throughout the year.
“We look at the scores previously and target the area and classes where we need improvement,” Friese said. “I think its stuff you do every day in the class room.”
Even Willapa Valley had shortcomings. In third, fourth and eighth grade math, 28, 48 and 40 percent of the district’s students met standards. But Friese said he will not make excuses.
“That’s something we will look at,” he said. “Obviously, we weren’t excited about the scores.”
Several schools had marked improvements. The scores for seventh grade math at Hoquiam Middle School went from just over 40 percent meeting standard to 75 percent. Scores also improved in eighth grade reading. Although 48 and 49 percent of seventh and eighth grade students met the math standard, the percentage of students who passed doubled from last year. The principal of Hoquaim Middle School was so happy with the scores he placed the results in the school’s trophy case.
“We wanted people to know when they come here that our focus is on academics,” said Dale Stopperan, principal at the middle school. “These kids take pride in what they’re doing in the classroom.”
Back in his office with his boxes, Parker pulled out a sheet of test scores. Three times a year, students take Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. The tests show detailed sub scores of areas of comprehension in reading, math and science. From these scores, Parker and his teaching staff can tell exactly where a certain student is falling short. He pointed to a group of students on the chart who where just one point or two away from meeting standard.
“We try to identify who these nine kids are, to bring them over the top,” he said, adding that the district’s new “Team Wednesdays” program is one way teachers make a strategy with MAP data. Hoquiam was not alone. Central Park Elementary doubled its fifth grade science scores from slightly below 40 percent to 78 percent. Miller Junior High maintained its 90 percent score for EOC Math year one and improved its reading score for seventh grade from around 30 percent to 64 percent.
The overall question in testing Opstad said was, “Where do we start and how do we help a student improve? It doesn’t matter if you are starting with low skills or high skills, we want all our students to improve.”