Snoqualmie Valley Students Succeed with Earlier, Increased Rigor; Still Room to Improve so More Kids Have Access

Over the past three years, some Snoqualmie Valley school board meeting attendees spoke out, worried about giving 9th graders access to 10th grade biology and offering more 8th graders algebra and geometry. Regardless, that access was offered to SVSD students – access also provided in neighboring districts.

Newly released state testing results may put some of those worries to rest, as they show almost all SVSD middle school and 9th grade students reached up and grabbed that proverbial “raised bar.”  The same results show, though, that there is still ample room for more Snoqualmie Valley students to access these courses earlier.

More Middle Schoolers Accessing Algebra/Geometry

In 2010-11, just 37% of Snoqualmie Valley 8th graders students took algebra during middle school. In nearby Bellevue and Issaquah that same statistic was around 90%.

That year, SVSD launched new middle school math pathways. The next two years, the number of middle schoolers taking algebra increased to 51% and then 59%. Last year as the district transitioned from three to two middles schools, that number dropped to 48%, with 60 less students taking algebra. Chief Kanim’s number increased, but Twin Falls decreased.

Washington State Algebra End of Course (EOC) exam results show SVSD middle school students performed well, with nearly 100% of 7th and 8th grade students taking the Algebra EOC passing it. Additionally, 60+ SVSD 8th graders took and passed the Geometry EOC last year, meaning they accessed algebra in 7th grade.

New 9th Grade Rigor Creates More 10-12 Grade Opportunities

For a few years, social studies was not a typical freshman year course at Mount Si High School; and until last year, 9th graders did not usually take AP courses; and a couple of years ago there were whispers of not offering foreign language at the new freshmen campus for fear it would make 9th grade too hard.

That changed last year when a new, more rigorous, 9th grade curriculum, including multiple social studies options, STEM and accelerated math and science options, was launched.

In 2013-14, nearly one-third of SVSD 9th graders accessed biology a full year earlier than previously granted in the district, creating more room in their 10-12 grade years for additional, higher level science courses, or other courses of interest.

Nearly all of the 9th graders who took the new Honors Biology Course (compacted and accelerated combination of Integrated Science 1 and 2 courses) passed the state Biology EOC exam.

In total, 30% of SVSD 9th graders took biology last year. In the neighboring Issaquah School District, 78% of 9th graders took biology (and passed exam). In Bellevue, that same statistic was 73%. [Issaquah has a 3% lower poverty level than SVSD and Bellevue’s is 7% higher.]

For SVSD 9th graders enrolled in the new AP Human Geography social studies course, 75% passed the rigorous national AP exam, The average passing SVSD 9th grade score was 3.3, which was a slightly higher passing average than the 3.2 score of SVSD sophomores who took the AP social studies World History course exam. SVSD 9th graders also greatly exceeded the national average of students receiving top 4 and 5 scores on the AP exam.

What 9th Grade Teachers Have to Say

Honors Biology Teacher, Jean-Jacques Tetu gives most of the credit to the “great group of students” and to “the supportive and academically intense environment of the Freshman Campus.”

Tetu said, “It’s been a truly harmonious and incredible atmosphere over here, and I think it also contributed to the increasingly positive atmosphere at the main campus as well. I started as a neutral on the FC [Freshman Campus] but now am a true believer.”  He added, “The results speak for themselves.”

AP Human Geography teacher, Jerry Bopp said he wasn’t aware of any evidence pointing to the conclusion that the physical location of 9th graders’ education impacted the scores of his students.

Bopp commented, “My belief is that what went into the scores is what happened in the classroom and what happened at home much more than a physical location. I feel strongly that the results could be duplicated in a unified campus or in a one room schoolhouse.”

He explained that his students worked hard and grew enormously over the course of the year and “deserve all the credit.”

Earlier Access: The Math and Science Connection

Math and science are intertwined when it comes to accessing courses earlier in the Snoqualmie Valley School District. In order for 9th graders to enroll in the new honors biology course, they are required to complete algebra by 8th grade.

Accessing Algebra in middle school is becoming a goal of many districts across the nation and the Puget Sound. The Snoqualmie Valley School District even uses the statistic as a benchmark on its new strategic plan scorecard.

The Road Map Project, a seven school district coalition in Seattle and south King County that promotes a community-wide effort to improve education and drive improvement in student achievement from cradle to college and career says:

Math is a general education requirement which causes challenge for many students who enter into postsecondary. Having a strong math foundation is increasingly important, as many of the career fields with the greatest job growth in our region require solid math skills. Students who complete algebra in the 8th grade generally take more years of math and are more likely to go to college.”

The National Science Foundation states, “Algebra I is considered a ‘gateway’ course leading to more advanced course taking in mathematics and science and to higher levels of achievement. An increasing number of educators and researchers are calling for more students to take algebra I before high school.”

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