Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WASL Scores and Income

Every study I have read shows an extremely strong correlation between family income level and standardized test scores.

In 2005, the Cascadia Scorecard Weblog examined the relationship specifically between WASL scores in Puget Sound schools and the number of children who quality for free or reduced-price lunch. The result was that "between half and two-thirds of the variation in school performance on the WASL could be explained based solely on the share of students whose families need help buying them lunch."

So while, as an advocate for Graham Hill Elementary, I will play the WASL score comparison game to keep the school from being closed, I strongly object to the fact that parents and schools are put into the position during this closure process of comparing their schools quality based on WASL scores.


Anonymous said...

Are you saying that the test is severely biased against students living in poverty and therefore should not be used?

Are you saying that the state's expectations for student achievement, as expressed by the WASL, are too high?

Perhaps the high correlation between WASL scores and income is due to the high correlation between academic achievement and income. In which case, the WASL is measuring academic achievement accurately. In that case are you saying that should not expect students are living in poverty to pass the WASL?

What are you saying?

Beth Bakeman said...

Oh, Charlie, I wish I knew what I was saying!

I guess my main point is that if you give me data on the % of kids receiving free or reduced-lunch, I can give you a pretty accurate prediction of what the WASL scores will be like. So given that teachers and schools can't affect that variable, it seems ludicrous to use WASL scores to compare how "successful" schools are. Also, kids make progress at school in so more ways than can be captured in a test score --- socially, emotionally, and academicly in ways not captured by a particular test.

There was a web site (which I couldn't find last night) that I used to look at which showed whether WASL scores were higher or lower than "predicted" based on demographics. That was interesting data. (Anyone else know which website that was?)

But, honestly, I think schools that focus on high WASL scores to the exclusion of hands-on learning, creativity, social skills and fun are depressing places to send kids. Some Tacoma schools recently dropped recess to work on raising WASL scores. After parental outcry, that idea was dropped. But supposing it wasn't? Would you want to send your kids to a school with higher than predicted WASL scores but no recess?

So, yes, I think WASL scores should not be used as a high-stakes assessment. I think WASL scores should be used by teachers to identify students' strenghts and weaknesses, but that would require administering the test much earlier in the year and providing quick feedback to the teachers. The way WASL is administered now seems almost pointless. By the time teachers have the scores, it is too late for them to use them for any instructional purpose.

And to (finally) try to answer your questions, I'm not sure that the WASL is any more biased against students living in poverty than other standardized test. (I'd love to hear more about what others who know the test better than I think.)

I don't think the state's expectations for student achievement are too high. In fact, I'd argue they are not high enough. But I don't want to see any single standardized test used as a high-stakes assessment of student achievement.

Use WASL (or other standardized tests) to help teachers identify which students need extra help in which academic areas, or don't use it all.

Standardized tests, like the WASL, are lousy tools for making policy decisions like which schools to close.

Anonymous said...

All that can be said is during the first go round last spring, the Superintendent and staff did NOT consider academics and were roundly critizized. Then, the CAC had a first round of Town Halls about the criteria and the number one choice of parents, in every quadrant, was academic effectiveness. The Board gave the CAC guidelines of what to use. The CAC did use the WASL but used several years, used value-added data and, when necessary, looked at ITBS scores (and that is a different test than the WASL).

There was concern about the differences between WASL scores at Graham Hill between its regular ed program and Montessori. How come no Graham Hill parents have jumped to explain this big difference? You could explain it if it were a Spectrum program but it isn't. Don't Graham Hill parents have a concern over this issue or is it reflected in the first posting of this issue; that kids in lower income brackets will likely do worse?

Anonymous 1

Anonymous said...

The WASL was not developed to be an assessment tool. But try telling that to the District and the Legislature. It is being used inappropriately to judge students when it was developed to assess how they are doing and to guide teachers.

But if parents said academic effectiveness was their number one concern, how would you measure it? Value-added data gives that WASL data the fairness needed to use it across the board. How do you measure social and emotion progress and fairly judge it across the board? We, as parents, know this about our children and choose schools that we think will serve them accordingly but how you can measure it in a situation like this is beyond me. It goes to parental satisfaction but even then, it's a slippery slope.

Anonymous 1

Anonymous said...

My gut feeling on the discrpancy comes down to many families with lower income are working different hours/aren't able to spend enough time with their children to help motivate learning or they themselves did not do well in school or have it influenced by their parents of school's importance, so they don't influence their children the same way. It could also come down to volunteer hours with each school - schools that draw from higher income families may have a stay at home parent who can volunteer at the school - so you have more help in that area as well.

I think the poor performing schools would greatly benefit from increased volunteer hours from the community and getting the parents more involved with their children's education - but I believe a lot of people believe that and just don't know the best way to get that accomplished.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add - fundraising dollars (or lack there of) may also contribute along with the items I already mentioned (lower income families = less money to give, so need to rely more on outside community).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your candor. We want schools that are effective academically - regardless of the readiness of the students who walk through their door. The Value-Added data is supposed to reveal that, but if you have ever seen the Value-Added data, then you know that it is not very revealing at all. The numbers and graphs are almost impossible to read - and I LOVE reading numbers and graphs.

As anonymous said, the WASL was never intended to measure the academic achievement of individual students. The technical notes on the test are very clear about that. The WASL was intended, however, to assess the academic effectiveness of teachers, schools, and districts.

WASL test scores certainly cannot be the sole measure of school quality - I don't think anyone is suggesting that. But I think that WASL scores can give some meaningful information about a school's academic effectiveness.

The problem that the WASL and NCLB revealed was the Academic Achievement Gap. The WASL is a tool for measuring the gap - it is not a tool for closing it.

To close it, the district will have to get serious about establishing and maintaining high expectations for all students, teachers, and principals. This would mean an end to social promotion and the introduction of an extended, intensive, and enriched remedial program that will bring students up to the Standards and return them to their general education classroom.

The district is going to have to work a whole lot harder to get families involved in their children's education. The academic achievement gap is created at home, not at school. That's an uncomfortable truth.

Here's another uncomfortable truth: For all of the talk about institutionalized racism in our schools, that racism is most commonly expressed by passing a student who doesn't meet the Standards because the teacher and the principal do not hold that student to the same high expectations they have for middle class White students. The end of this form of racism will be marked by a large number of minority students not being promoted to the next grade and the introduction of a program designed to quickly bring them up to Standards.

I believe that - barring some physiological impairments - every single student can be taught to the Standards and should be expected to meet the Standards. Anything else is reprehensible.