Tuesday, February 10, 2009

replace the WASL... with what, exactly?

Randy Dorn has already started the chainsaw of WASL reform. That tree's headed for the lumber yard. Gerald Bracey on the plan:
Dorn wants to replace the WASL with shorter, multiple-choice tests. Bad idea. And he wants the tests to be more "diagnostic." Dorn's impossible dream.

First off, in a KUOW interview, Dorn said the new tests would still be valid. He cannot know that. Validity is always an empirical question. Usually, if you make a test shorter, it becomes less valid. Of course, I've oversimplified in that statement. The question really is, valid for what? It's relatively easy to judge the content validity of test items — do they measure what they claim to measure? From the released WASL items I've seen, I'm not certain those items do....

But the bigger validity question is: Does the test make any difference? Are college professors more pleased with students who have passed the test? Are employers? The answer is a resounding, "We don't know." States are afraid to ask this question because, if the answer comes up, "No," they will be seen to have spent millions, even billions, of dollars for nothing. But informal studies by journalists have yet to turn up a positive instance. So forget all the fear-mongering rhetoric that we need these tests in order to compete with China and in the global economy.
The solution is taking the sting out of the WASL. Right now, our school uses a WASLesque reading assessment to help place students in appropriate instruction. It's given on computers, adaptive, and offers near-instant results. It's not perfectly valid for everything, but that's not its point. It's part of a battery of assessments, and it's not a graduation requirement. Its utility has nothing to do with its lack of "high stakes" motivation.

According to Bracey, what alder of progress should arise in the WASL's place? He concludes with a catkin of a recommendation:
What Washington should pursue is a course like Nebraska's, where testing ideas originated with teachers (remember them?) and evolved into something we might call instruction-driven measurement. Right now, what we have is measurement-driven instruction and it is a disaster, both in Washington and in the nation at large.
Bzzt. False dichotomy, five yard penalty. Intelligently-crafted assessment should drive instruction, and instruction should inform assessment. No either-or about it.

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