Questions and Answers
What is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning?
The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) measures student achievement of the state's rigorous new academic standards in reading, writing, mathematics and other core subjects. The test is administered at the elementary, middle and high school levels. It is designed to help teachers refine instructional strategies, increase student achievement and provide data on the performance of schools and districts over time.
What's the difference between the WASL and other tests?
Both the WASL and traditional norm-referenced tests focus on important academic skills. Norm-referenced tests rely heavily upon multiple-choice questions and emphasize basic or foundation skills. The WASL measures the application of those skills to problem solving tasks and real world situations. In addition to multiple-choice questions, the WASL requires students to complete shore-answer questions, draw graphs, compare and contrast information from multiple texts and write short essays. These types of questions require students to do more with their knowledge than they have in the past. Another important distinction is that norm-referenced tests are designed to evaluate a student's performance relative to the performance of other students. This helps parents and schools make regional and national comparisons. Standards-based tests, such as the WASL, emphasize the evaluation of each student's performance against a fixed and challenging standard of knowledge and skills.
Who takes the WASL and what's the timeline?
By the spring of 2001, all fourth, seventh and tenth graders in Washington's public schools will take the WASL in reading, writing, listening, and mathematics. Eighth and tenth graders will also take the science test. Testing is conducted in late April to early May. Many private schools participate in the assessment as well. Assessments in social studies (civics, history, geography, economics), arts and health and fitness will be mandatory at all the elementary, middle and high school grade levels by 2008.
How and when are scores reported?
Parents and teachers receive scores for individual students each fall. Scores show student performance relative to a high and fixed standard of achievement and provide information on strengths and weaknesses within each subject, such as problem solving in mathematics or grammar, punctuation and spelling in writing. Results provide teachers information about where students need help in these areas and can help refine instructional strategies in the classroom. Scores are also compiled to show performance trends at the school building, district and state levels.
How are the tests scored?
Teachers and education specialists developed specific scoring criteria for each subject tested. Specifically-trained experts use these criteria to score each student's work. One in every ten tests is reviewed by additional scorers to ensure grading is consistent. This scoring process is very time-consuming, but it provides a reliable and more complete picture of how well students are learning.
Will the state tests affect my child's grade?
In general, the state tests were not designed to be a grading tool. They are intended to measure what students are learning and to help teachers improve instruction by providing better information about where their students may need help. However, some schools may use the test results to help make student retention and promotion decisions. You should feel free to ask your child's teacher or principal how the test will be used in your child's school.
How do WASL results impact school and district evaluations and graduation requirements?
All schools and districts in the state are expected to take responsibility for their own improvement and help increasing numbers of students achieve high academic standards. WASL results are a key source of information used by the state's Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission to evaluate district and school performance trends over time. The ultimate accountability for learning resides with students. Successfully completion of the high school WASL will eventually become a graduation requirement. This will require hard work and will be very challenging for many students.
Can I get a copy of the tests?
No. The tests are not released publicly because many of the same questions will be used on future tests. You can, however, receive sample test questions from your local school and a few examples are included in this booklet. In addition, by going to your child's school and signing a confidentiality agreement, you can review an actual copy of the test.
What will be done to address the needs of students with disabilities?
As with any other aspect of education for students with disabilities, local school officials have to identify what falls within a student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and what it excludes. The state has compiled a list of accommodations available to districts for their students with disabilities. This includes additional time, special testing environments and variable testing formats, such as Braille. Specific guidelines are available to help districts make decisions about accommodations.
Can students use computers when taking the test?
Students with special needs who use computers as an accommodation during the course of the school year are allowed to use them on the state test. In most cases, this requires a provision for computer use in a student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Beyond that, students are not permitted to use computers on the WASL. It may be possible to change this restriction in the future, but several important needs must be met, including access to a computer for every student, uniform software that does not allow spelling and grammar checks and does not save student work and a scoring system that can capture, process and score responses created on pages outside of the test booklet.
What are "classroom-based assessments?"
The state has provided schools with "classroom-based assessments" related to the WASL. Classroom assessments enable teachers to measure student progress over time and in a greater number of ways than is feasible through state-level assessments. They promote "hands-on" learning and the application of knowledge. Classroom assessments are a critical part of a sound instructional program. They enable teachers to know what is working and where changes are needed to help students learn. Classroom assessments can be tailored to the varying developmental needs and learning styles of students. Classroom-based assessments, along with regular exams, quizzes and projects, will ensure that learning continues throughout the school year. What's the cost of the WASL? The overall cost to the public is approximately $29.00 per-student-tested. This includes the cost of classroom-based assessments and professional development teachers. By comparison, the SAT costs about $23-per student for the basic test and about $50 for each advanced section.
What resources are available to help us understand and communicate about WASL scores at the local level?
Every building principal has already been sent a guide entitled Reporting on Learning (in the PDF format) to help school staff interpret the student, building, and district-level score reports. By mid-August, principals will receive Reaching Higher to help parents understand the purpose of the WASL and how to read their child's score report. There will be enough copies for distribution to the parents of every student who participated in the assessment last spring and interested school staff. Finally, every district assessment coordinator will receive a CD-ROM Query program to help analyze performance data in late September.
Who do I contact if I have additional questions?
Please call the OSPI assessment office at (360) 753-6755 or 753-3449.