Thursday, July 30, 2009

a little love for the WASL

This morning's Seattle Times offers an article on a recent survey of Washington teachers regarding the soon-to-be-obsolete WASL. An unfortunately small, probably unrepresentative sample reports that, yes, there are some good things about having a statewide standardized test that values critical thinking.
Teachers echoed many of the same old criticisms of the WASL — it's too long, the results are confusing and don't come back in time — but they also credited the WASL with improving students' writing and reasoning skills.

They pointed favorably to its "extended response" questions, which are to be eliminated from new exams favored by Randy Dorn, the new state superintendent of public instruction who campaigned to replace the WASL.

The new tests, to be introduced next spring, will continue to have some short-answer questions but will be largely multiple-choice.

That will be true for the state exams given to 10th-graders and those for students in third though eighth grades. The only exception will be the writing section, where students will still be judged on the quality of short essays.
Researchers found that most of the teachers they surveyed wanted to improve, rather than replace, the WASL. The difference is tough to discern. At some point, we enter into Ship of Theseus territory.

And what about the upcoming non-WASL?
[Superintendent Randy] Dorn is working to offer the test online; math sections will be updated; and the superintendent's office is working on classroom tests that would allow teachers to diagnose what help students need.
Missing: by 2014, math tests will be end-of-course exams directly linked to instruction in various subjects, since not all students take the same math sequence. (The way things have gone, who knows what'll be required by then, anyway.)

The key change is the new, technologically-mediated approach to the upcoming non-WASL's diagnostic capabilities. If the test, as its proponents claim, validly points out deficiencies in instruction, then that information needs to be in schools' and teachers' hands within days, not months. (And, as I argue elsewhere, a better diagnostic test might not even need to be linked to graduation to be effective.)

Last, if we can save at least ten of the sixteen hours currently spent administering the 10th-grade WASL, I'll see that as a win.

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