Future cloudy for WASL test

Mount Si High School wrapped up the reading and writing section of what could be the last Washington Assessment of Student Learning test administered by the school.

Washington schools Superintendent Randy Dorn is pushing ahead with plans to replace the WASL with shorter tests, known as the Washington Comprehensive Assessment Program. High school sophomores will take the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE), while grades three through eight will take Measurements of Student Progress.

Dorn pledged during his campaign to scrap the WASL, but critics say he is replacing it with a watered-down version rather than something new. Some school officials are uneasy about Dorn’s proposal to introduce the new tests next year.

“I’m concerned with the speed that we’re going to stop the WASL and go to the HSPE. It feels like changing the tires of a car en route, all at once,” said Beth Castle, Mount Si’s assistant principal, who also oversees the WASL at the high school.

Some of her trepidation is from the unknown of something new, Castle said. She felt some anxiety when the WASL was introduced.

But Castle has reservations on whether the state is taking the time to properly develop and evaluate the new tests.

“I’m a little nervous about how we do all that in a year,” she said.

The new test is supposed to be shorter, use computerized testing, minimize costs and increase feedback for parents and teachers. The new test will rely much less on writing short answers.

The WASL does disrupt the high school’s academic schedule, Castle said.

During test periods, the school day begins at 10 a.m. for all students, even though only sophomores take the test.

Increasing time spent in class is good, but cutting the test could make it less indicative of a student’s ability, Castle said, pointing to math as an example.

Currently, parts of the WASL’s math section require students to write down their work for solving problems.

“They give you a box and say, ‘Show us how you came up with your answer. Show us your critical reasoning’,” Castle said.

Even if a student made an arithmetic error, he or she could still receive credit if the correct approach was used.

This won’t affect the accuracy of the tests, said Chris Barron, a spokesman for the state superintendent’s office.

Dorn’s office is already developing the new test under its authority as outlined by state law.

“We have to get moving now to implement changes for next year,” he said.

Bills supporting the new tests are moving through the state Senate and House, but these are not necessary for the superintendent’s office to change the test, according to Barron.

The changes will not affect other graduation requirements or alternatives to the WASL, such as a collection of evidence, for which a student compiles a vast array of evidence that he or she meets the standards tested by the WASL. Students who don’t test well in standardized formats can compile a collection instead.

“I think [the WASL’s] a good indicator, but it isn’t the only indicator of whether a student has those skills,” Castle said.

Only a handful of Mount Si students opt for the alternative for the writing section.

“Regardless of what test we have, the graduation requirements are still linked to it,” Barron said.

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