Students around the state took part of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test this week.
Standards are important, but, now that the test is a graduation requirement, it’s time to think about what those standards are.
Here are things I would change about the test:
• A different math requirement — The current test assumes that students have taken at least two years of high school math. Not every student needs algebra and geometry. Many are better served taking vocational classes or classes in the arts.
• Give the test earlier than the sophomore year — Leave high school as a time for electives outside of English, math, science and social studies. Students need the chance to take classes in music, art and shop.
• Test Preparation — The Legislature has given school districts money to help students with difficulties. Too often such classes teach students the tricks of test taking rather than the underlying knowledge and skills.
• Assess writing outside the test — Writing on the WASL and similar tests in other states demands writing to a formula. Writing ability is best measured outside of a test.
• Return graded tests — After the test, Washington gives students a score but nothing about what they did right or wrong. If students see the graded work, they can learn from the experience. The state has to spend the money to write new versions of the test each year. That way there won’t be such concern about security.
An educator from Massachusetts, where a similar test has been a graduation requirement for three years, tells me that the test has improved teaching in the basic subjects but has taken a toll on “other parts of the school day, starting with recess and continuing with shop, art, PE, health, music, you name it.”
He also notes that requiring special-education students to pass state tests keeps them from the education they need.
Finally, he says that Massachusetts schools spend too much time testing rather than teaching.
Legislature did some good things
The Legislature finished its session last week, passing some important bills and leaving other work undone.
One of the most important was a compromise on medical malpractice. The new law won’t satisfy all interests and won’t end demands for change, but it did come from various interest groups getting together to hammer out the compromise. One important change is a provision that allows a doctor or hospital to apologize for a mistake without the apology being used as evidence of malpractice.
One of the legislature’s best moves was to leave the smoking ban alone. Yes, we’re hearing of unintended consequences, but the legislature wisely decided to wait before making major changes. Meanwhile, nursing homes can apply for waivers if the 25-foot rule is forcing residents to smoke in unsafe places.
Evan Smith is The Enterprise Forum editor. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.