Things That Bother Me About the WASL

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Here are some things that bother me about the WASL and Washington Standards:

1. I have attempted without success to discover an accepted framework of learning that supports Washington’s model of curriculum and assessment. OSPI references something called the “Carkhuff Conceptual Framework,” but I have been unable to find anything about it in the educational literature. Can someone send me to a reputable source of information on this framework? Or is there one?

2. My experience as a “Scientific Inquiry” consultant to school districts in Oregon has demonstrated the difficulty of trying to implement changes in curriculum that require big changes in the strategies used by teachers in their classrooms. After teachers had attended weeklong workshops, college classes and individual classroom visits, I found only a small percentage of participants who were able to implement the techniques needed to teach using the Inquiry process.

The Washington reform model appears to require teachers to implement similar strategies across the entire curriculum. It can be argued that the reforms are necessary, but I can find no evidence of the massive professional development effort required to make such a change and very little effort to fund the process. In fact, money is diverted away from this process to fund the incredibly expensive assessment effort called WASL.

3. The American Educational Research Association (AERA), the leading research organization in the field of education, in July 2000 adopted a position statement and a set of guidelines on the use of high-stakes testing. The concern of the organization was that the pursuit of high test scores would override learning as the goal of classroom instruction. Among the ten conditions set forth by AERA as essential to sound implementation of a high-stakes testing program, several seem to be missing or incomplete in Washington’s use of the WASL as a requirement for graduation.
o The AERA guidelines state that decisions that affect individual students’ life chances should not be made on the basis of test scores alone. This is directly counter to the way the WASL is used.
o Tests should be validated for each intended use according to the AERA. This means that the use of the10th grade WASL as a graduation requirement should be evaluated for strengths and limitations of both the testing program and the test itself. No such evaluation has been made public.
o Validity of passing scores and achievement levels must be established. Again, such validation has not been made public if it has, in fact, been done.
o Sufficient reliability for each intended use must be demonstrated. This means that the specific scores used to make the high-stakes decision must be accurate and reproducible. Reported scoring errors and inter-rater reliability concerns for extended-answer questions bring this AERA condition into question.

What bothers me most about the inattention to good testing practices is that the decisions based on the WASL have such an impact on the lives of students and the people administering the exams should be aware of the limitations of these practices. My question is, why weren’t officials at OSPI and assessment personnel in the school districts raising alarm?

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