State may face sanctions for test participation

Too many students opting out

Like their peers around the state, Lower Valley high school juniors demonstrated mixed participation in completing the Smarter Balanced Assessment exam last year.

That lack of participation, in some cases, has Washington state in potential hot water with the U.S. Department of Education. The agency issued a letter warning the state it could be sanctioned next year, if the number of 11th grade students participating in state assessments is not higher than it was last spring.

Fewer than 95 percent of Washington’s 11th graders participated in state testing during the 2014-15 academic year, preventing the state from meeting requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, according to a letter sent to the state in November.

Sunnyside, however, bucked the state trend as 96 percent of high school juniors here completed the assessment.

Director of curriculum assessment and instruction Brian Hart praised district teachers for their role in that success.

The test covers topics that include English Language Arts and math, and Hart said high school staff developed relationships with students in stressing the assessment’s importance.

“There is a benefit to students,” he said.

Students elsewhere in the Lower Valley are missing out on that benefit.

Only 88 percent of Grandview High School‘s juniors took the assessment test last year.

Executive Director of Human Resources Matt Mallery said, “We didn’t have an out-and-out refusal rate.”

However, he said officials at the high schools will continue talking with students about the importance of taking state assessments.

That 88 percent rate, though, has potential ramifications for Grandview schools.

“Districts and schools with less than 95 percent assessment participation rate are not eligible for any of the state and/or (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) title program awards,” Assistant Superintendent of Special Programs and Federal Accountability Gayle Pauley said.

She said those schools have been removed from the state’s eligibility list for recognition.

Also those schools and districts are required to address the low participation rates as part of their improvement plans.

Hart said many students may have opted out of the assessment because it is not a graduation requirement.

The newly implemented assessment measures college readiness, which prevents some students from being required to take college entrance exams, Hart said.

Sunnyside Schools Superintendent Rick Cole said the U.S. Department of Education was operating under the rules established by No Child Left Behind, but new legislation was passed recently that changes some of those rules.

He said state will still be required to meet the 95 percent participation for state assessments, but the states will have more control under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Last year was a transition year between the High School Proficiency Exam and the Smarter Balanced Assessment,” Cole said.

This year’s junior class, the class of 2017, will be required to pass the newer test to graduate.

“No matter what, we will keep having our kids take these tests,” Cole said.

Nathan Olson of the state superintendent’s office said only 30 percent of the students not participating in the state assessment were considered refusals or unexcused absenses.

“The other 18.9 percent are student who sat for but didn’t complete the exam(s) or who had their scores invalidated,” he said.

Olson said the state also is unable to speculate as to why participation rates were low last spring.

“The participation rate for the class of 2017 already is higher because those students took the Smarter Balanced ELA exam in 2015 as a graduation requirement,” Olson said, adding, “The proficiency rate for those students was 74.1 percent.”

Director of the Department of Education Monique M. Chism said there are remedial actions that can be imposed on states. They include a written request for compliance, increased monitoring and placing conditions on the state’s Title I funding.


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