More High-Stakes Mythbusters


MYTH 1: Since introduction of the WASL and similar high-stakes tests in other states in the mid-1990s pressure of the tests has led to significant improvement in student achievement.

What do investigators report?

A 2003 study by WSU professor emeritus Don Orlich found no significant positive impact on student achievement resulting from administration of the WASL. Arizona State University researchers report that in 17 of 18 states studied, learning did not improve after high-stakes tests were initiated. Separate studies at ASU found that high-stakes tests may worsen academic performance and increase dropout rates. Washington’s purported increase in achievement may best be explained by the OSPI action of LOWERING THE PASS SCORE since the inception of the tests.

The WASL and other high-stakes tests DO NOT increase student achievement! MYTH BUSTED!

MYTH 2: The WASL will identify problem schools. These schools and teachers must be held accountable for low scores.

What does the research say?

The WASL and other high-stakes tests are best used to identify schools with a high rate of poverty. A study of scores from schools in the Boston area concluded that family income accounts for more than 80% of the variance in scores. This is consistent with WASL 10th grade pass rates according to Dr. Orlich. Other studies from several states show that poverty and ethnicity are the primary determinants of student achievement. Should teachers be held responsible because they chose to teach in a school with high minority and poverty rates?

The WASL DOES NOT identify problem schools. It identifies schools with a high incidence of poverty. MYTH BUSTED!

MYTH 3: Test scores will identify the learning needs of individual students and help plan programs of assistance.

What actually happens?

Individual student’s scores do not identify specific needs and because scoring feedback is not timely, teachers cannot apply new strategies, even if appropriate, The WASL labels children as failures, in part because of their economic status, but does not provide feedback necessary to overcome their academic deficits. At a cost of over $200 million to date, the results do not justify the costs.

The WASL DOES NOT provide timely or appropriate feedback for individual students. MYTH BUSTED!

Learning is too complex to assess by a test as flawed as the WASL. We need more responsive tests that require less time and are easier and cheaper to score. These combined with teacher judgment and actual work products are far more likely to improve children’s learning.


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