The battle over high-stakes testing took a back seat this legislative session to education reform bills that promised to dramatically up school funding. But the issue is bubbling up again. State schools Superintendent Randy Dorn, elected last year on his promise to dump the WASL, sent out a press release this morning announcing that his office is getting close to completing a new assessment system. The new tests will be shorter, use multiple choice questions and, eventually, be given to students online. But he says that it's "unrealistic" at the moment to expect high school students to pass the math and science portions of what will be called the High School Proficiency Exam--no surprise given the abysmal performance of students on the math WASL. And so, while he stresses that he supports using the test as a graduation requirement, he says he will ask the Legislature to delay the math and science portions of that requirement by at least one year. Otherwise, the class of 2013 would have to pass all portions of the test.
Later in the day, the Washington Education Association responded with a press release that praised Dorn for scrapping the WASL but criticized him for sticking to the concept of a high-stakes test."Superintendent Dorn plans to use this new test in the same way as the old WASL," WEA spokesperson David Phelps writes. "This is not progress."
At the same time, some are wondering what the state's participation in a new movement for national standards will mean. Forty-six states, including Washington, have recently signed on to an agreement to develop such standards; the offices of Dorn and Governor Chris Gregoire are both involved. David Marshak, an education lecturer at Western Washington University and a longtime critic of high-stakes testing, says he believes national standards will intensify the already considerable pressure on schools to teach to the test.
"Anytime you have tests you have the pressure to teach the test," concedes Alan Burke, the state's deputy superintendent for K-12 education, who is involved in the national effort. But he contends that national standards will produce better textbooks and be more "efficient," helping states save money by pooling their resources.
What about the standards we've already spent money on? He says he thinks they'll hold up pretty well to whatever national standards are developed. "I don't think we'll have to do much more than tweaking," he says.