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Seattle Schools Test Scores Mostly Flat

Ann Dornfeld

More kids in Seattle Public Schools passed the state tests in math and science than last year. But some of those gains may be misleading, as KUOW's Ann Dornfeld reports.


Whenever the state test results are released, schools officials are quick to herald the gains kids are making in everything from third–grade reading to 10th–grade biology.

The state and federal government closely monitor these test results to gauge schools' progress.

To learn more about what Seattle's annual scores mean, we turned to Catherine Taylor, a professor in measurement, statistics, and research at the University of Washington. She's a psychometrician — an expert in designing tests, and analyzing the results.

Taylor looked at Seattle's progress on two statewide tests over the past year — the Measurement of Student Progress and the High School Proficiency Exam.

And the verdict?

Catherine Taylor: "What I see is that things are pretty flat."

Pretty flat, Taylor says, because the district's gains are mostly just by a few percentage points over the three years the tests have been given.

Catherine Taylor: "Based on the percentages of changes that you're seeing there, it's not telling me that there's big gains or big losses happening at all. It could be a single raw point on the test."

Taylor says there are some exceptions — like dramatic gains in fifth– and eighth–grade science.

She says administrators have told her how hard they're working to get kids up to speed in science. But Taylor says other big gains are harder to interpret, like scores for high school students in geometry and algebra.

That's because those tests are only in their second year, and teachers may just be getting better at getting kids ready to take them.

Taylor says what's for certain is that gains and losses don't have to do with the test getting easier or harder from year–to–year. That's factored into the scoring.

But to understand exactly how that works, it helps to be a psychometrician.

I'm Ann Dornfeld, KUOW News.

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