Tuesday, July 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Math, reading assessments suggest learning gaps

The results of a statewide test of public school students on math and reading skills suggests a learning gap between ethnic groups in local schools.

The aggregate results of the Annual Measurable Objectives tests shows that Tacoma and Fife students are largely below the state targets for math and reading proficiencies. But they are not alone. Students in Bethel, Clover Park, Eatonville, Franklin Pierce, Peninsula, Puyallup and Sumner are also below the state standard, although this test was administered last year for the first time, so trends are not available.

The statewide tests of reading and math skills are meant to chart “proficiency gaps” between students in 10 racial groups as well as income and special needs groups. The gap is determined by comparing the difference between the group’s scores with the statewide scores of all students. The goal is to identify the racial gaps in scores and cut their differences in half by 2017 or face federal funding penalties, although those penalties have not been determined.

“The 2017 targets are realistic expectations for schools and subgroups, but they aren’t the end goals,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. “It’s important that all students reach their full potential, and we will not stop working to ensure that happens.”

Hispanic, Native American and African American students in Fife are already meeting the state benchmarks or are at least within a few percentage points of doing so. All other groups are largely close to the targets as well. Fife Superintendent John McCrossin said that one of the limitations of this statewide testing is that it only provides a snapshot and addresses different students each year to chart changes.

“You aren’t measuring apples to apples, so we don’t get overly excited about it,” he said. “(The state) is trying to simplify this when it is a complex situation. Test scores don’t drive what we do for kids. Our focal point is the kids.”

Only Asian students in Tacoma scored on or above the state targets, even scoring markedly higher than all students in the district. The lowest scoring group of Tacoma students was the Special Education group, with 25 percent showing proficiency in reading with a target of 37 percent and only 19 percent showing proficiency in math when the target is 33 percent.

“Obviously we aren’t happy with the scores, but we are happy with the trend,” Tacoma Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia said.

Tacoma school officials are taking the data from this state test and comparing them to other standardized test results to develop methods to lessen the racial gaps. One shortcoming of the results of a first-time test is that the single test doesn’t record changes over time. Other tests, however, show that Tacoma schools are boosting student learning across all racial groups. And while Tacoma scores are largely below the state targets, students around the state are below the target scores as well.

“Tacoma and the state are mirror images in terms of who met the target and who didn’t meet the target,” Garcia said.