WASL test reliability in question

Leter to the Editor

The educrats are readying the smoke and mirrors. It is time

once again for The Great Test Score Scam.

This year, they are pulling out all the stops; a meaningless

“assessment,” messing with the standardized tests

to confuse comparison, arbitrary standards of “success” that float like a

lumbering lifeboat, and generous accommodations for the ever larger

numbers of children bearing an official government label. What a show!

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) can’t

be compared to those nasty old standardized tests. That’s good for the

educrats, because it hides the massive failure of performance-based education.

The standardized tests are still around to haunt the marketing team, though,

so the state changed the test and moved it from the fourth to the third grade.

It is now impossible to compare scores of past and future students.

The WASL is not valid or reliable by any scientific measure. Valid

means that the test is an accurate measure of what the student knows.

Reliable means completed tests with identical answers should get the same score,

no matter who takes it or when. These definitions no longer apply.

The WASL is “officially” valid and

reliable merely because the state board said so.

But the WASL is an essay test, subjectively graded by many

different people, real people who have good and bad days. A single assessment is

unlikely to be graded the same by different people or even by the same

person at a different time. This year’s “scoring errors’ on the writing portion

illustrate this dramatically.

There are other reasons the WASL is useless. The assessments are

different every year. [Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry] Bergesen

has admitted that the writing test is easier this year, because last year’s was

too hard. What constitutes “passing” is voted on by a committee of

educrats. There is nothing to prevent artificially raising the scores by lowering the

standard. The long list of labels attached to children that will result in

accommodations (more time, help reading directions, etc.) includes “highly

capable!” The possibilities of the abuse are endless.

It used to be enough to reassure our doubts about the local

schools through a little manipulation of test score reporting. Just “excuse” the

right students from the statistics and – bingo – above average. The press never

reports the percentage of students tested and the public naturally doesn’t

think to ask the question. The percent tested varies considerably, but that

information never sees the light of day. This question should be asked of both

the standardized tests and the WASL.

Borrowing an engineering truism, “If you torture the data enough, it

will confess.” The whole exercise would

be laughable, were not the stakes so high.

After all, this is the measure by which the Compliance Police

(A+ Commission) will decide what schools – or districts – get taken over by

the police. Whose district will be the first target?

Marda Kirkwood

Chairman, Citizens United for Responsible Education