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Thursday, April 19, 2007

WASL Showdown

posted by on April 19 at 17:44 PM

In addition to the budget, there’s one more big legislative skirmish knocking around in the legislature before the session ends this Sunday. The fight is about a WASL reform bill.

Citing high failure rates (about 49%) Democrats in the House want to delay the high school graduation requirement that says students must pass the math and science portion of the WASL.

However, Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1, Bothell), want to amend the bill to also delay the requirement that students must pass the reading and writing portion of WASL to graduate.

Neither the House nor the Governor (the bill was originally her’s) like the idea of delaying the reading and writing requirement.

However, the Washington Education Association does. Here’s the spin from their recent legislative outlook newsletter:

WEA supports delaying all sections of the WASL and using the delay to review, revamp and improve the current student assessment system. Math WASL scores have received a lot of attention, and there appears to be agreement about delaying that part of the high-school WASL. The House and Senate have passed versions of Senate Bill 6023, which delays the math WASL and makes other changes. But, looking at the state’s own statistics, it’s clear there’s a larger problem with the WASL and its use as a graduation requirement. According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, only 45.1 percent of Washington’s eligible high-school students have passed the reading, writing and math sections of the WASL. The 10th-grade WASL is required for graduation under current law. WEA has long advocated against using a single test to make high-stakes decisions about students and schools. WEA supports an assessment system that measures student achievement in multiple ways.

You’ll notice, however, that not passing math is included in WEA’s analysis. My suspicion is that it’s the math portion that’s dragging down the pass rate, not the reading and writing sections.

Indeed, Rep. Joe McDermott (D-34, West Seattle), who opposes Sen. McAuliffe’s amendment to delay the reading and writing graduation requirement, reports that the pass rate for the reading and writing sections of WASL are much higher than the pass rate for math and science sections.

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What a fun little game!

We set up a simplistic, inflexible, universal standard that we know can't be met by everyone, and we strap it to a high-stakes outcome (high school graduation) to give it some "teeth". Then, to paraphrase a Far Side cartoon, a miracle occurs.

You mean wishful thinking--excuse me, "high standards"--doesn't help students learn more?

Of course, now that our ridiculous high-stakes WASL cake is collapsing, we prance about trying to find ways of propping it up. The math section is by definition flawed because the consequences of acknowledging it are too we'll just de-emphasize that part of the test. But at least we can pretend that rigorous standards have trumped the status quo!

Posted by Bryan in the UK | April 19, 2007 6:27 PM

But who cares about amth?

If youre in elementarry sckool and can spell a ditty like "legislative skirmish knocking" you're garanteed magna cum laude in Bullshit. Sew, Look on the breit side gosh Fite?

Posted by darling463 | April 19, 2007 6:53 PM

The simple explanation why so many students don't pass is that they [b]truly aren't able[/b] to compose a cohesive paragraph or solve a basic logic problem.

Although the WASL messenger may not be flawless, it's close enough. Validate it yourself. Ask a studious high school graduate under age 25 just what they thought of their class.

The bar isn't too high; the status quo really is that low.

Posted by Troy | April 19, 2007 8:42 PM

You don't know shit about the WASL or the current state of WA state math teaching. It's dominated by new age concepts of self-discovery math teaching often called reform math. 6th graders hardly have numbers and equations in the math books anymore. Take a kid who isn't strong in math to begin with and they become increasingly disabled in Math. And the company who sells this crap curriculum is the same one that makes the incomprehensible WASL math test so they can promote their teaching curriculum as the best way to teach "WASL math." Parents don't talk about "WASL math" as being like anything ordinary people, or tradesman, or mathematicians, or scientists use. And this company has a massive PR machine that, among many other questionable practices, trains teachers in their materials on how to sell the program to parents who complain that it sucks and their kid is falling behind.

The dominant reform curriculum and WASL are great for kids who can teach themselves math or maybe have a 1 to 5 teacher-student ratio.

For the rest of the kids....well, the legislature is going to keep fantasizing that reducing the class size by one student is going to change something, but you can't have a hard line standard if you utterly fail to supply materials and teaching that itself is testably effective. The curriculum needs to be tested against other options by a means of testing not controlled by the supplier of one of the curriculums.

The company the makes the 6th grade math curriculum in Seattle actually tells teachers to grade subjectively! And they have to or the grades would be lower for their students because the curriculum isn't working for a large percentage of kids.

Posted by mirror | April 19, 2007 9:57 PM

I tutor students in math from ages 5-18 and the only student's math books I see that are worth a damn are 15-20 years old. Those raggedy books probably don't prepare the students that well for the WASL but they're much better at preparing them for using math in their everyday lives or for higher education.

Posted by dirge | April 19, 2007 10:46 PM

The problem is that the WASL is being abused in this state, because of the requirements of the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind.

The WASL is a good test - in the 90's it was created BY teachers, FOR teachers. Just like any good assessment, it was intended to be as much for teachers as for students - a way for teachers to assess how well they were teaching content to their students. Furthermore, great pains have been taken to make the test more than just a fill-in-the-bubble standardized scantron assessment - students are expected to write, and draw, and create equations in order to show their thinking. It was also created with gender/race issues in mind - statistically, the group that does best on old-fashioned multiple choice/true false is the white, upper-middle class male population, so the WASL tried to incorporate more short answer/essay responses.

All that said, the WASL is completely inadequate as a way to determine high school graduation. It is absolutely ridiculous that in a profession like teaching, where the expectation is that teachers will have AT LEAST a Master's degree, society is still so mistrustful of teachers' judgment that they feel they have to go over their heads to a standardized test in order to be sure that kids are learning. Give kids the WASL, and use that data to improve teaching and learning in our schools. But leave graduation requirements up to the professionals - those highly educated teachers who put their hearts and souls and minds into giving their students the best they have to offer.

Posted by E. | April 20, 2007 6:55 AM

mirror: My point isn't that WASL is a perfect metric, only that current high school skills really are (roughly) as far below where they need to be as WASL results claim.

A 90% WASL pass rate today would make me discard the test as a worthless certificate.
Based on recent firsthand experience in public schools, student skills are lower.

Educate us about test writing. Which company "makes the incomprehensible WASL math test"? This WA state page says that groups of math teachers create the questions.

Googling for more primary sources finds that NCS Pearson contractors score answers to subjective test questions, and that other subsidiaries of Pearson Education (a holding company) make curriculum products.

Two tons of blame goes to WEA for a stunningly successful campaign against the metrics and incentives that help talented teachers stand out. WEA wants job security above all else, and it shows.

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Posted by Jonney_rzn | April 27, 2007 6:02 PM

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Posted by Jonney_rzn | April 27, 2007 6:02 PM

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Just like your resource :).

Posted by Jonney_rzn | April 27, 2007 6:02 PM

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Just like your resource :).

Posted by Jonney_rzn | April 27, 2007 6:03 PM

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Posted by Jonney_rzn | April 27, 2007 6:03 PM

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