Thursday, July 30, 2009

WASL; "Had Some Good Points"

The Times had this article about the results of a study on high-stakes testing.
From the article:

"Researchers spent two to three days at six Washington high schools, where they observed classes and interviewed parents, students, teachers and principals. Although their sample was small, they said they chose schools they think are representative of the state's high schools as a whole.

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."

Also:

"Of the three states the center has studied, Washington was the only one where teachers mentioned that a high-stakes test such as the WASL has improved student learning, said Deepa Srikantaiah, the study's main author. And the study says about 80 percent of teachers said they'd rather see the WASL improved than replaced.

The state's largest teachers union disputes that finding. In the Washington Education Association's survey, 75 percent of teachers said they wanted the WASL replaced, said spokesman Rich Wood."

First, except for actual opponents of assessments, no one said the WASL was all bad. But this study seems short on time and the number of schools to be called a study. And, I would agree with the WEA's survey over this one. 80% said it improved student learning? I find that hard to believe but I'd have to see how the question was phrased.

One odd thing about the study that I hadn't seen before is that they gave each school and district a fake name. There's Honeycrisp High in the Microsoft School district, Jonagold high in the Nordstrom district. Maybe the teachers wouldn't talk unless the union didn't know which teachers participated.

The study reads as something as a backlash against Superintendent Dorn's efforts to reform the WASL.

6 comments:

Renee said...

I think the study is flawed in that it reports such high approval of teachers. That is not the impression that I get at my school. I am not a WASL detractor - I believe it is flawed, and I would like to see it improved, but not thrown out like Mr. Down is advocating. I wonder what the question they asked was like. I am one of those teachers who would like to see the WASL improved, not just eliminated. There are some good points - especially on the Science WASL in which they need to show Process skills (important to be a scientist). It definitely has its good points, but also its bad points.

I don't think a strictly multiple choice test is a good thing - I would love to see a mixture of multiple choice, short answer, graphing, and longer answer for a science test, but reduce the time grading. In New York State (where I worked before - and they've been giving these exams since the mid 1800s) the teachers graded the Regents Exams using a very strict rubric, and Regents released online as full tests the minute after the time students have to take it is done. Teachers were not treated as suspects, as they are in WA (e.g. do not LOOK at the exam just administer it). I am a professional and am not going to cheat. Also, we knew that if something fishy happened and students got higher scores than they should (it is closely monitored), we would be fired. We had a "Regents Week" in which we proctored exams, and graded exams, and gave students longer lab assignments if they didn't have to take a Regents. I liked this schedule, and being treated as a trusted professional. We saw right away what our students missed and were able to figure out how to help them (we gave a practice test at the turn of the semester, and a real test in Spring). Part of the expense in the WASL is because we farm out the grading system - it goes to Arizona of all places. This is because the questions are vague and confusing often and it is not clear what they are asking - but that takes a change / not throwing out all the "design your own experiment" questions completely.

I think the huge issue with the WASL is the secrecy and the way that it is not easily available to parents and students. There are only a few practice problems available, and to figure out what the question is asking can be a pain. Students may know the correct answer and pretty much write it down but because they didn't jump through the hoops, they don't get the points.

I also do not understand why we need to reinvent the wheel. There are other states with fantastic tests - New York, California, Massachusetts - that have been going for a long time and have therefore worked out the bugs. Why spent thousands (millions?) on test development and grading like that when we could use ones that are already had the kinks worked out? I would like to see Science subject specific tests so it is not so broad (in New York - there is a Biology, a Chemistry, an Earth Science, and a Physics Exam - they only have to pass one of them to meet the science requirements, but of course can try to do other tests as they see fit - the WASL right now is way too broad in Science)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Renee, amen and they should hire you at OSPI.

dan dempsey said...

"Of the three states the center has studied, Washington was the only one where teachers mentioned that a high-stakes test such as the WASL has improved student learning," said Deepa Srikantaiah, the study's main author.

How would these teachers know student learning improved because of the WASL?

Rising WASL scores indicate nothing.
The IOWA reading tests remained constant at grades 6 and 9 2000-2005 while WASL reading scores soared at grade 7.

Education is a very immature profession and as long as evidence-based decision making is neglected will remain so.

Like most Education studies this one probably relies on anecdotes instead of empirical evidence. Education is about the same place medicine was in 1790. What color leech would you like to have your bad blood drained?

Renee said...

Thanks Melissa. I actually applied to OSPI when they were asking for help re-looking at the Science WASL. I mentioned some of this stuff in my application. I don't think they liked that - I wasn't selected. I also wrote Randy Dorn a letter with this information, but never heard back.

dan dempsey said...

Renee,

"I wasn't selected"

There you have it. The goal of those at in power at OSPI is apparently to have lots of folks in complete agreement. This is hardly a formula for improvement.

At OSPI under Dorn those in math are exactly those in place under Bergeson.
Hardly a formula for improvement.

Dan

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Renee
I am a product of the NYS Regents system and I believe I got a terrific education because of it. Keep pushing those ideas towards Mr. Dorn.