There were no surprises in the WASL results for the class of 2009 – the last group of Washington state high school seniors who’ll have to pass the controversial test to graduate.
Seniors did slightly better in meeting reading and writing requirements – 93 percent passed, compared with 92 percent the previous year – and the group meeting math requirements still hovered around 74 percent, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Scores for individual districts and schools will be released in August.
Seniors who failed reading and writing will have a chance to retake the Washington Assessment of Student Learning this summer. But after that test, the WASL will be gone.
With the current test on its way out – one of state Superintendent Randy Dorn’s campaign promises – attention turns to the future of student evaluations and the state’s dropout rate.
“While a high percentage passed, that does not include the one in four who dropped out,” Dorn said. “If we did, that number would be reduced by about 25 percent.”
The new assessment tests – Measurements of Student Progress for grades 3 through 8 and the High School Proficiency Exam – will debut next school year.
The tests will take half the time of the WASL, officials say – two hours for each assessment in high school, 75 minutes for third- through fifth-graders and 90 minutes for sixth- through eighth-graders.
“I’ve heard from educators around the state that the students suffer from test fatigue,” Dorn said. “By cutting the testing time in half, we shouldn’t see that any longer.”
Nancy Stowell, Spokane Public Schools superintendent, said: “I think that having more instructional time is always a good thing. At the same time, I think it’s important to assess where we are in relationship to state standards. If they can do that in less time, that’s great.”
Among other changes: the tests will require fewer extended answers, such as essays; most of the new tests will be multiple choice; and there will be a gradual shift to online testing for all assessments, said Razak Garoui, Spokane Public Schools’ director of assessment and evaluation.
Online testing will start with grades 6 through 8 and expand as finances allow, officials said.
High school students will still be required to pass the reading and writing assessments to graduate. Sophomores, juniors and seniors won’t have to pass the math requirement to graduate, but if they fail they will be required to take an extra math class.
The class of 2013 will be the first required to pass the math assessment, Dorn said, although he questioned whether that’s a realistic expectation.
“Students in the class of 2013 won’t have enough time with the learning standards in math and science to be fairly assessed,” he said.
While WASL and the new tests were intended to be the focus of Thursday’s announcement, Dorn was more concerned about dropout rates, especially among ethnic groups.
State statistics show the estimated dropout rate for all students is higher than 21 percent, but near 41 percent for Native Americans and 32.5 percent for African-Americans.
A recent study by Editorial Projects in Education, a nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week, found Washington has the 11th-highest dropout rate in the nation.
“Let’s be honest about the numbers,” Dorn said. “We are putting together a task force that will look at best practices, not only in this state, but also in other states.”