The 2007 WASL pass rates for schools and districts were released yesterday. Be very careful when drawing conclusions from this data.
There is no attribution analysis that comes with these pass rates, so please remember that there are a number of factors that contribute to a student's results on the WASL and that the school is only a minor factor, not a determining factor. Stronger factors include the student's home and the student's teachers. For example, the pass rates at Chief Sealth High School are markedly higher this year than in previous years. Is that due to a change in the teaching and learning at Chief Sealth or is it primarily due to the recent introduction of International Baccalaureate classes there? Now that Sealth is offering IB classes, the school is attracting more high performing students. The improvement in pass rates at Sealth wasn't caused by a change in the student's classes but a change in the class of student. I remember a few years ago there was a teacher at the African American Academy who, through her personal and heroic efforts, got about 80% of her 4th grade class to pass all three tests. The test results for the 4th grade students in the other class were more like the historical pass rates for the rest of the school and the rest of the school's history. In the following year when the teacher had a third grade class (the AAA looped third and fourth grade), the school's pass rates for 4th graders returned to their usual levels. The pass rate didn't reflect the school's efforts or improvement, but the extraordinary effort of an individual teacher.
Be careful of any trend analysis. I would suggest that instead of comparing this year's 4th grade pass rate with last year's fourth grade pass rate, that you compare it instead with last year's third grade pass rate. Be wary of anyone who touts improvement from one fourth grade class to the next. Those are two different cohorts. If you follow the class of 2013 from the fourth grade in 2005 their pass rates in math have been 59.1% in the fourth grade, 57.0% in the fifth grade, 49.7% in the sixth grade, and 51.4% this past year in the seventh grade. This trend is downward but it may have stopped dropping. In reading that class' pass rates were 77.3%, 76.3%, 67.0%, and 62.3% - a steady and continuing decline. In writing their pass rates were 57.6% in the fourth grade and 72.4% in the seventh grade, a real improvement. Other cohorts have shorter records that we can follow (two or three years instead of four) but their trends are generally flat or down.
Finally, be careful about claims regarding "growth" in the pass rates. According to a press release from the District, the pass rate on the 4th grade writing test "jumped" 20 percentage points at the AAA. First, that compares two different cohorts. These kids didn't take the test as third graders, so there is no pass rate to see change. Second, even after the "jump" the pass rate is a pitiful 46.2% while the District average is 62.6% on that test (down from 66.6% in the previous year). The press release also touts a 20 percentage point "jump" in the pass rates on the 6th grade reading test to 56.8%. The pass rate for these students as fifth graders (neglecting changes in the cohort) was 45.7%. The pass rate district-wide for sixth graders in reading was 70.9%, well above even the improved rates at the AAA. You don't see improvements of 10 or 20 percentage points at schools where the pass rate is above-average because these schools often don't have room for 10 or 20 percentage points of improvement. These "improvements" are often well within the margin for error on the WASL and therefore cannot be regarded at statistically significant anyway. There may not be any actual improvement, it may all be due to assessment error.
I'm not saying these changes in the pass rates aren't real and I'm not saying that increased pass rates aren't good. They are real and increases are good. I'm saying let's not presume any conclusions from them without some attribution analysis - of which there is none.