Stakes rising with state officials set to release WASL scores

  • Melissa Slager<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:56am

The tests so many love to hate mean more than ever this year.

Results from the spring Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests were set to be released on Wednesday, after The Enterprise deadline.

But most eyes are on the year ahead, when passing the WASL tests becomes a hurdle to a diploma for incoming high school sophomores.

Rumblings over the high-stakes tests persist, and the state’s 76,000-member teachers union is among those promising to fight the graduation requirement.

This year, third-graders will be tested for the first time in the spring as part of WASL’s expanding reach. Federal law requires states this year to start testing children in reading and math annually from the third through eighth grades.

Teachers and administrators say that brings added pressure, though they look forward to being better able to track student progress from year to year.

A new state law that requires teenagers to pass the reading, writing and math portions of the 10th-grade WASL is drawing even more fire.

This year’s sophomores, the class of 2008, are the first to face the gauntlet. In addition, the class of 2006 will be the first to have WASL scores posted on their transcripts. And universities are ponying up new scholarship dollars for graduates who do well on the state tests.

Still to come is an alternative assessment and appeals process for students who fail one or more of the tests.

Students will have up to five chances to pass any of the three sections, and they must make at least two attempts before they can take an alternative test.

The state has yet to decide what those alternative tests will be, but has narrowed the options from four to two: a blend of WASL scores and grades in related classes, or a portfolio demonstrating aptitude.

A report by a University of Oregon team on the options – which included end-of-course exams and juried assessments – is due by September.

Educators caution that any alternative test would have to be just as rigorous as the related WASL. They will be aimed at students who have the knowledge but for some reason shut down when given a test.

“It’s not an easy out for students,” said Greg Hall, assistant superintendent for assessment and research with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Washington Education Association, the state teachers union, believes such alternative tests should be available to all students, not just those who fail the WASL, spokesman Rich Wood said. The union hopes to sway lawmakers.

“This year, there’s going to be a higher level of awareness of the WASL than ever before, and parents in particular are going to be concerned,” Wood said.

The WASL has changed classrooms, requiring students to learn more and different things that better prepare them for today’s work world, such as thinking critically and explaining their work, school leaders say.

In the WASL’s eight years, overall scores have increased, particularly in reading. But there’s a long way to go.

Scores may be higher, but half of the state’s middle- and high-school students in 2004 still failed the WASL math tests.

Teachers say guidance from the state is getting better, but the pressure to perform on the WASL tests seems to outweigh other indications of a successful classroom.

In addition to the added pressure that comes with the WASL, the state announced on Aug. 26 that 185 schools statewide have been identified for improvement status based on this year’s preliminary WASL results, up from 156 last year.

Area schools listed include Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds (on the list for special education reading and math scores) and Scriber Lake High School in Lynnwood (on the list for math scores).

This list of schools is required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It’s based on a complicated formula using results from the 2005 Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests.

Schools have one more chance to appeal the listing. A final list will be released in October.

Melissa Slager is a writer for The Herald in Everett.

Talk to us

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.