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Replacing WASL with fairer, less expensive test

New state Superintendent of Schools Randy Dorn announced his plans for the future assessment of Washington state students on Jan. 21. The goal: replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) with shorter, more efficient tests designed to save money and time.

According to a press release from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Dorn said: “I was elected on a promise to replace the WASL with a fairer, less expensive system of measuring student learning.”

No changes will be made to the test for the 2009 school year because of time constraints, but beginning in 2010 the assessments will take on a different look.

Students in grades three through eight will take the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP), and high school students will take the High School Proficiency Exams (HSPE). Overall, the new assessment system will be called the Washington Comprehensive Assessment Program (WCAP).

Michael Schiehser, the director of instruction and assessment for the MISD, said the district has worked extremely hard over the past several years to ensure that all students meet the state standards and that the district will continue to work toward the goal no matter what the state decides to change.

“Because of the work we’ve done and our teacher quality, this is less of a concern for us than perhaps other districts in our area,” said Schiehser. “Our teachers don’t teach to the test; their focus is on student learning.”

Schiehser said he expects that teachers will be happy with more instruction time due to shorter tests, and with getting the results back faster and more efficiently. He added that because of the new computerized testing format, teachers, students and parents will have better data than in the past, which can help the district and individuals pinpoint areas where more work may be needed.

For the first year of the new system, districts will have the option of offering computer-delivered reading, math and science tests. Dorn said he hopes that all districts will have made the switch to computerized testing by 2012.

“We’re very lucky to have the Mercer Island Schools Foundation’s support with technology and because of the technology levy that passed, we’re much better equipped for these changes than many of the districts in the state to implement this. We have the infrastructure, so we’re at a big advantage,” said Schiehser.

Chris Barron, the assessment communications manager with OSPI, said that training teachers for the assessments will stay the same.

“OSPI trains district assessment coordinators and then they train personnel at the school level. We’re anticipating that administering the tests will be much simpler when everyone goes to computer testing,” said Barron.

Overall, Schiehser said he wasn’t too concerned with teaching the teachers how to give a new set of tests.

“The key change is going to be preparing our students for that change,” said Schiehser. “There may need to be an instructional component so they are familiar with it. That’s probably the biggest piece.”

One of OSPI’s goals is to give students across the state, along with their families and teachers, a system that is practical and one which will enhance what students are already learning.

“We need a state testing system that makes sense to teachers, students and families,” Dorn said in a press release. “Our tests need to be tied to technology and provide immediate feedback to teachers so they can better assist their students. Computerizing the tests will also require far less resources, both in time and money.”

The MSP test will be offered twice a year to students in elementary and middle school, beginning in 2010, to give students more opportunities to show what they have learned. Another objective under the new system is to allow students to take up to two tests per day, cutting down on the total number of days required for the test, saving time and money. Currently, students can only sit one test subject per day. The new test will also have a reduced number of long-answer questions in the reading, math and science portions.

The HSPE for high school students will be shorter, allowing for faster turn-around to give students, parents and schools more time to retake the test, if needed. The state will pilot the reading and science computerized tests in 2010.

During the 2008-09 school year, students will still need to pass the WASL, or meet the other state requirements to graduate if the test is not passed, and under the new system students will need to pass the HSPEs to receive their diplomas. However, if a student has successfully passed the WASL prior to when the new system goes into effect, he will not need to take the new tests, according to OSPI.

Dorn said he plans to ask the Legislature to remove the 2013 deadline for the math and science WASL because it is hard to design an assessment based on the current standards. He also said he plans to continue to allow students to take two math credits should they not meet the math testing standards.

Dorn has also said he supports the end of course math tests, which would take the place of the math WASL. This change, if approved by the state legislature, would go into effect in 2011. This means that all students would take an end-of-the-year math test, four in total, in algebra, geometry and integrated I and II.

The new system is still heavily in the works, and Schiehser said that the district will not make concrete plans for implementing the new tests until the state’s requirements are set in stone.

“We’re waiting to see what the state’s responses are,” he said on how the state plans to deal with school funding and how that could affect the new testing system.

For more information on WCAP visit www.k12.wa.us.

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