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Achievement gap: ‘Unacceptable’ test scores in Federal Way schools

The achievement gap and low math scores are again a problem for the Federal Way School District.

The school board is looking over last year's assessments, including WASL tests and national tests like the PSAT and SAT.

There were 132,000 assessments taken by Federal Way students last year, an average of 6.5 per student.

WASL scores have hit a plateau, and the leveling out of tests scores is occurring in districts around the area. The other trend is that students are just not passing the math WASL, and the achievement gap, especially in the math area, is still quite large.

"These are numbers that are really unacceptable," board member Ed Barney said. "They're scary."

Board member Tony Moore agreed, commenting on math scores by African American students: "With scores this low, I wonder, where's the disconnect? I'd like someone to explain, what is district math and what is WASL math," he said. "If these numbers are correct, we're failing miserably."

Only 23 percent of African Americans passed the WASL math section last year; 26 percent of Hispanics and 17 percent of Pacific Islanders passed, according to the district. In the past 10 years, none of these groups have scored well on the math section of the WASL, with the highest passing percentage coming in at 33 percent for Hispanics in 2007. African Americans topped out at 32 percent in 2006. In comparison, white students have scored in the low 60s for the past four years, and Asian student have scored in the upper 60 percent.

The district attributes low math scores to the state Legislature's decision that passing the math WASL is not required to graduate.

When students are actually required to try, say for course assessments that are part of their grade, the scores are higher and the gap is not as severe — although it is still there.

Also, the district's scores on the SAT puts the district above the national average and close to the state average. Washington state has the highest average score on the SAT in the nation. Students in the district earlier this year averaged a 514 out of 800 in the SAT math portion. The national average was 510, and the state average was 529.

Podcasts and more

The district has begun working on improving test scores. This includes increased technology such as ELMO (an image document camera) and podcasts for math classes. The district is hoping to have the podcasts available by the end of the semester. The district has increased its supply of textbooks, spending $30,000 to $40,000 on algebra textbooks, including some in Spanish, at all schools.

The public will have an opportunity to comment and hear presentations on the topic at the next school board meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at City Hall.

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