BENTON CITY — Kiona-Benton City High School students stepped up. That's what Principal Wayne Barrett thinks when he looks at the 10th-graders' scores on last year's new state standardized test.
Unlike the state and most Mid-Columbia schools, Ki-Be saw an increasing percentage of its students pass the tests in reading, writing, math and science.
"We went up considerably," Barrett said.
Students had to pass a new test, the High School Proficiency Exam or HSPE, instead of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. State Superintendent Randy Dorn campaigned on replacing the WASL and fulfilled his promise when he took office last year.
It's a different test and a different set of students than those who took the last WASL the previous year, Barrett said, but the success in meeting state standards points to hard work by staff and students.
Ki-Be High School had 92 percent of its students pass in writing, a larger percentage than all Tri-City high schools except Richland and Southridge.
Barrett said that's especially significant because of the school's demographics.
At Ki-Be, about half of students are low-income and about 10 percent are in a transitional bilingual program.
Richland has only 2 percent of its students in a transitional bilingual program and 24 percent are low-income. Southridge has 3 percent of its students in a transitional bilingual program and 34 percent are low-income, according to Dorn's office.
And Ki-Be had a larger percentage of 10th grade students pass the reading, writing and math portions than the Kennewick, Richland and Pasco school districts and the state as a whole.
One of the things Barrett credits for the improved scores is the Read 180 program the school started last year. Barrett said his district got the idea from the Richland School District, which uses the same program.
The program aims to help students who are struggling with reading by using a computer program and individual and small group reading, he said.
More than 50 percent of the students who participated in the program ended up passing the reading and writing portions of the exam, Barrett said.
Students also have benefited from GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a program run by Washington State University Tri-Cities using a national grant, Barrett said. It helps prepare students for college.
Teachers also worked with students to prepare them for the test, and Barrett said he visited each sophomore class to challenge students to do their best.
And the past two years, the high school has had a staff member who focused on helping struggling ninth-graders before they started failing, Barrett said.
Jim Perry, who was Ki-Be's academic adviser for two years, said he counseled students, helped them with study habits and made sure their schedules were correct.
But he credits staff support of the Response to Intervention program and Read 180 as contributing to the gains.
The district's middle and elementary school staff also helped prepare students to succeed, he said.
The high school also saw its percentage of failing students decrease. Perry, who is now the Kiona-Benton City Elementary School dean of students, said at one point, 19 percent of the freshmen were failing one or more classes. By year's end, that had fallen to 5.5 percent.
Despite the successes, the school failed to make adequate yearly progress, Barrett said.
Ki-Be missed the mark in two categories, low-income math and Hispanic math, he said.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools do not make adequate yearly progress if they miss targets in one or more of up to 37 categories two years in a row. Schools that receive federal aid face sanctions from allowing parents to transfer their child to replacing staff.
Making the grade is tougher after the test-score targets that students need to meet jumped last year between 15 percent and 35 percent, depending on grade and subject.