Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Goodbye WASL

If you sent kids off to school today, you probably saw them drag their feet on their way out the door even more than usual this morning. The reason: today is the first day of over two weeks of WASL testing in public schools across Washington. For the uninitiated, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is the state’s annual exam used for No Child Left Behind reporting and fulfilling high school graduation requirements. It is almost universally disliked from students to parents to teachers.

When your kids get home today tell them the good news: these are the last WASL exams they will ever take! After the rejoicing stops, you can share the bad news (at least to them.) Next year, instead of the WASL, they will be taking either the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP), for children in grades three through eight, or the High School Proficiency Exams (HSPE), for high school students.

Your kids might be pleased to know that the exams will be much shorter, involve less writing and that by 2012, will be taken solely on computers, most students’ favorite way of working.

The revamped tests are the direct result of new state school superintendent Randy Dorn’s campaign promise: to replace the WASL with a shorter, cheaper test that can be graded quickly. These two new tests will be less onerous to teachers who really miss the instructional time lost during testing, and to the state who could really use the cost savings garnered by using a computer administered and graded exam.

A big advantage that I see with the new exams is that the elementary school tests will be administered both in the fall and in the spring (supposedly taking less time than administering the current WASL) instead of the current, spring-only schedule, and teachers will receive the results in two weeks, much, much quicker than they do now. This gives teachers the opportunity to see what areas their students need more instruction in early in the school year, and gives parents the ability to see where their child needs more work before it's too late to do anything about it during the school year. The lack of this diagnostic capability was a problem with the WASL.

One WASL problem that the new tests don’t fix is its inability to directly compare Washington students with their peers nationwide. Our students are the only ones in the country who take the WASL. If they took the same test that students throughout the country took, it would enable us to see exactly how our state matches up with others.

On the other hand, with the proposed deep cuts to state education funding (about $800 million over two years), maybe we don’t want to know how Washington kids compare with others. Our grade might not be too pretty.


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