Washington Assessment of Student Learning
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The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) was a standardized educational assessment system given as the primary assessment in the state of Washington from spring 1997 to summer 2009. The WASL was also used as a high school graduation examination beginning in the spring of 2006 and ending in 2009. It has been replaced by the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) for high school students and the Measurements of Students Progress (MSP) for grades 3-8. The WASL assessment consisted of examinations over four subjects (reading, mathematics, science, and writing) with four different types of questions (multiple-choice, short-answer, essay, and problem solving). It was given to students from third through eighth grades and tenth grade. Third and sixth graders were tested in reading and math; fourth and seventh graders in math, reading and writing. Fifth and eighth graders were tested in reading, math and science. The high school assessment, given during a student's tenth grade year, contained all four subjects.
In 1993, the state legislature created the Commission on Student Learning and charged it with the job of developing the Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) and an assessment system to measure student progress. That assessment system became known as the WASL. Further development of the WASL became the responsibility of the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction when the Commission on Student Learning was dissolved in 1999.
The first pilot year of the WASL was during the 1996-1997 school year. Fourth grade students were assessed in reading, writing and mathematics. The following school year, fourth graders and seventh graders took the WASL. In 1998-1999, 10th grade was added. Listening was also assessed during the WASL, but was discontinued after the 2002-2003 school year.
The next major change to the assessment came in the 2002-2003 school year, when science was added as a test. Tenth grade students were assessed in the current four subjects during that year: reading, writing, math and science. In addition, eighth grade students also began testing, but only in science. The following year, 2003–2004, fifth grade students began testing in science, as well.
In 2005-2006, due to updated federal standards as part of the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB), third and sixth graders were also tested. Third and sixth graders were assessed in reading and math. The reading and math assessment were also added to fifth grade and eighth grade.
Alternate assessments were also incorporated into the regular WASL assessment cycle over time. The Washington Alternate Assessment System (WAAS) Portfolio was added during the 2001-2002 school year for fourth, seventh and tenth graders. In 2005-2006, the WAAS-Portfolio was expanded to all testing grades, 3 - 8 and 10.
In 2004-2005, 11th and 12th graders were allowed to retest the WASL.
The WAAS Developmentally Appropriate WASL (DAW) was also introduced in 2005-2006. The WAAS-DAW allowed a student to take a WASL at a lower grade level (e.g., a 7th grader taking a 4th grade test). After a review by the feds, it was deemed that Washington's WAAS-DAW administration did not meet NCLB requirements, and hence could not be used for any grade used for AYP determinations (grades 3 - 8 or 10). In 2006-2007, the WAAS-DAW was updated so that only 11th and 12th grade students could take it. The test, if passed, would still count towards a student's graduation eligibility in the eyes of the state, but that test could no longer be counted towards a school or district meeting AYP proficiency.
The WAAS-DAW2 was also introduced in 2005-2006. This test allowed a student to take their on-grade WASL, but have it graded on a lower scale. This option was available to all students who have some form of disability. In 2006-2007, the WAAS-DAW2 was renamed to the WASL-Modified assessment. In 2007-2008, it was again renamed, this time to the WASL-Basic assessment.
The 2005-2006 school year also saw the first official retest sessions. Summer retesting and fall retesting were introduced, per Washington state Legislature requirements. Summer retesting occurs in August and is for high schoolers who did not meet standard on the high school (10th grade) WASL previously. WAAS-DAW2/WASL-Modified/WASL-Basic tests can also be taken during summer. Fall retesting is in November and is for special education students attempting to retake the WAAS-DAW or WAAS-Portfolio assessments.
Finally, the 2005-2006 school year also was the first year that allowed ninth graders to attempt the WASL early, but only during the spring administration. This was intended for gifted or advanced students that had already met the educational criteria of the WASL to attempt it and get it out of the way. In 2006-2007 and later, 9th grade students were no longer allowed to attempt the science portion of the WASL early. In 2007-2008, ninth graders were allowed to take the August retest, as well. 9th graders were not allowed to take any portion of the WASL for the 2008-2009 school year due to announced cutbacks in funding.
Many parents' and teachers' groups have protested against the WASL, claiming unreasonable expectations and uand also disputing the requirement that even severely learning-disabled students must take the test. During the Washington State PTA's 2006 convention the delegates unanimously voted to "oppose any efforts to use a single indicator for making decisions about individual student opportunities such as grade promotion, high school graduation, or entrance into specific educational programs." Instead of a single measure, such as the WASL, Washington State PTA supports multiple measures of student achievement.
Some WASL examinations (including the writing examinations) are graded by human scorers, and the qualifications of these scorers have sometimes been points of contention. WASL examinations were developed and originally graded by practicing teachers, but current test scorers are only required to have a bachelor’s degree and minimal test-grading training. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is currently only supporting the involvement of Washington educators in the scoring of the Writing section of the WASL. OSPI will no longer be supporting teachers in the scoring of Reading, Math and Science. Additionally, inconsistency in human scorers’ evaluations of answers has undermined the legitimacy of some WASL examinations’ results. The belief that human-generated scores may be inconsistent is further perpetuated by the fact that they (the scorers) are only expected to reach a little more than fifty-five percent agreement on a given score.
Due to the inconsistencies in scoring, educators warn that the WASL examinations are not appropriate for determining grade advancement and high school graduation. Despite these warnings, recent legislation in Washington State has designated the WASL examinations for these purposes.
Due to the wide variation in strand performance schools are unable to use WASL results to identify specific content areas needing improvement.
About half of tenth graders did not pass the math section of the 2005-2006 WASL. Scores also fell across the board in other grades, leading some to question whether there was a problem with the scoring since this change appeared in many unrelated schools and districts. The president of the Washington Education Association teachers' union pointed to the very high failure rate as being unacceptable, and a reason to drop the WASL requirement for graduation. Superintendent Terry Bergeson responded by saying "It would be a mistake to turn back on the commitment to graduate all students at a high standard."
A September 2006 investigation by the Snohomish County Journal found that the WASL was based on work by Robert Carkhuff, a self-published Washington OSPI contractor. He has had a decades-long professional relationship with key OSPI staff members Terry Bergeson and Shirley McCune. Documents show he was paid more than $1 million to restructure Washington state education around his thinking systems. The investigation concluded that the WASL was designed improperly and that flaws within the test were responsible for the high rate of student failure. Among the problematic components of the test were the structure, phrasing, and content of its math and writing sections. These sections were not designed with a complete understanding of the intellectual abilities and knowledge levels of students. The investigation concluded that the best method to ensure the fulfillment of Terry Bergeson's pledge that all students have the opportunity to earn a diploma was to correct the flaws within the WASL.
High minority failure rates
Compared to the half of most students, nearly three-quarters of the state's African American and Latino students who took the 10th-grade WASL failed at least one of the subjects needed to graduate. Two-thirds of Native Americans were not on-track to earning a diploma, and 70 percent of students living in poverty, mostly white and Asian. Although research has shown an achievement gap has always existed between most groups on all standardized tests, state Superintendent Terry Bergeson told the Seattle Times the state "must ensure success of all students," as it is the core belief of standards-based education reform. Bergeson's goal is to make Washington the first state to eliminate the achievement gap found between ethnic and income groups.
Math cancelled, science section delay
On May 8, 2007, Governor Gregoire signed and officially called the delay of the math and science sections of the WASL test. Students in the Class of 2008 will still have to only pass the reading and writing sections. On March 26, 2008, Gregoire effectively tossed out the math section of the 10th-grade WASL, largely due to low pass rates and debate over its long list of problems, to be replaced by math tests at the end of classes.
The math WASL will count as a graduation requirement in 2011 and then be replaced in 2014 by end-of-course exams. The math end-of-course exams will be administered after Algebra and Geometry, and will be taken at the completion of the course. This means that some students may achieve their math graduation requirements prior to even entering high school, which may help ease the stress of taking the WASL for the remaining subjects during their 9th or 10th grade year. However, the WASL has been thrown out. Starting in 2010, students will no longer have to take the WASL.
Washington Classroom-Based Performance Assessment (WCBPA)
In order to address concerns that only math, science, reading and writing will be assessed, classroom based assessments in many fields have been created and piloted by actual students through an OSPI project focused on student voice and authentic assessment.
In music, 5th graders are asked to sight sing from sheet music. They may use solfege, scale numbers, or fingering without an instrument. Songs must be sung with a steady beat, correct pitch and correct rhythmic value. A 0 point response will result with six or more rhythmic errors or not maintaining a steady beat. Each student will have one minute to study and practice the sight-singing exercise. Then there will be two opportunities to perform while being videotaped. They are also expected to compose on demand a theme using blank staff paper, and perform it on an instrument.
In dance, the state expects that all 5th graders can interpret a piece of visual art by creating and performing an original dance. A jumping jack "X" must be fully extended, a wilted "X" is not acceptable. Ending in a shape must be held for 3 seconds. Dances must perform in bare feet or appropriate dancing shoes. The student has 20 minutes to create and rehearse their dance, and must describe two ideas, images, or feelings and explain why he or she chose the movement or movement phrase.
Fifth graders are also required that they assess their social studies achievements. The students break into five different groups such as tobacco growers and producers. This year's prompt was: Should Representative Smith vote for a bill that does not allow smoking in public places. The different groups try to persuade Smith to go their way. Smith then votes and the group work is completed. In the end, they write up a four or five paragraph persuasive essay whether they like the vote choice. At that point they do not qualify under the groups and it is their own opinion.
- A Brief History of Essential Academic Learning Requirements and the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Retrieved 2/19/08.
- Washington Assessment of Student Learning: Controversy - K12 Academics
- Washington State PTA Board Positions and Resolutions STUDENT ASSESSMENT AND TESTING 18.13 Resolution 2006
- (n.d.)Who Scores the WASL
- (n.d.) 2007-2008 scoring announcement
- TENTH-GRADE WASL STRANDS:STUDENT PERFORMANCE VARIES CONSIDERABLY OVER TIME Washington State Institute for Public Policy; last accessed February 24, 2008
- Washington State Report Card
- Declining reading scores reflect OSPI's flawed policies Washington Education Association Website
- Kristin Kline (September 13, 2006). Investigation shows WASL design may be flawed. Snohomish County Tribune. Accessed 2007-09-15.
- Linda Shaw (September 14, 2006). Failure rates of minorities on WASL "painful" Seattle Times. Accessed 2007-09-15.
- Ed Reform and Federal Control The Learning Curve Online
- Math WASL will be history by 2014 By Linda Shaw
- Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction - WASL Test Questions and Practice/Sample Tests
- Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction - Washington State Report Card (WASL scores)
- Washington Education Association WEA
- CURE of Washington state (Citizens United for Responsible Education)
- Mothers Against WASL (MAW)