The largest school districts in Pierce County have low test scores

TACOMA, Wash. - The latest test scores paint a challenging picture for the largest school districts in Pierce County.

In certain subjects especially math, many school districts are struggling.

Tacoma Public Schools is the first to admit they are disappointed with their latest test scores. When it comes to high schoolers only about 29% of 10th graders met the standard when it came to math.

“We are not happy with any of the outcomes of our test scores,” Tacoma Public Schools Spokesperson Dan Voelpel said.

Voelpel says the district set goals that were not met.

“I think when we are not living up to our own standards. I think it’s important to admit it and address it,” Voelpel said.

Looking at SBA test scores for the four largest school districts in Pierce County make it clear they have a lot of catching up to do.

When you look at 8th-grade scores for Tacoma, Puyallup, Bethel and Clover Park school districts, test scores are low especially in math where more than half of all students in the four districts did not meet the standard.

Scores from 2017 to 2018 show that in Puyallup about 49% met the standard for math and 63% in English language or ELA.

Bethel is 38% for math and 53% for ELA. Clover Park had 44% of students meet the standard for math and 49% for ELA

As for Tacoma, it was 32% for math and 46% for ELA.

“What we are going to be doing in the next school year, this year we are prioritizing math standards so the teachers know what to teach,” Voelpel said.

It’s the same strategy they applied to ELA several years ago and now they are seeing slight gains especially in their elementary schools.

“We have seen growth beyond what the state has shown statewide we think that speaks to the work our teachers have done,” Voelpel said.

The Puyallup School District also says they are encouraged by their English language scores, as well. For example, in 2015 you had 47% of 3rd graders who met the standard. Now 3 years later more students in that same population are meeting the standard at around 65%.

One of the big accomplishments for some of the larger school districts in Pierce County is the graduation rate. They are high despite low test scores. The latest numbers from OSPI is from 2016 which shows that Clover Park and Puyallup had nearly a 90% graduation rate, Bethel had 84% and Tacoma was at 85%.

Since 2016, Tacoma says their graduation rate has inched even higher.

In 2010, our graduation rate was 55%, miserable, abominable and our school board said we needed to do something we need a goal,” Voelpel said.

In 6 years, they met that goal raising the graduation rate to 85%.

Now Tacoma Public Schools is hoping to do the same with test scores.

Districts like Lake Washington and Bellevue are still the ones to beat. 8th grade SBA scores show that in Bellevue they had 73% meet the standard for math and 81% for ELA.

Lake Washington was slightly higher at 82% for ELA and 75% for math.

But Voelpel says that many Tacoma students are dealing with the extra challenge of poverty.

“Our students are going through a lot of life issues that a lot of students in other districts don’t experience we are trying to equip our teachers to look out for the social and emotional needs of the kids,” Voelpel said.

There is no one reason for low test scores but historically low-income urban districts frequently have lower scores.