By Doug Selwyn
The “Nation at Risk” inspired test hysteria is with us here in Washington State as students, teachers, parents, and educators struggle to make sense of the educational reform movement
One of our major objectives in filing Initiative 780 was to stimulate public debate about education reform and, in particular, the high stakes testing component that requires all students to pass the tenth grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests in order to graduate.We have grave concerns about what has happened in schools around the state as a consequence of this high stakes policy, and we are concerned that there is an absence of real dialogue about the very serious damage being done to our students in the name of education reform.
Our purposes for filing Initiative 780 are relatively simple.
First, we want an end to high stakes testing. The
current law states that students must pass the 10th grade WASL
in order to graduate from high school, no matter what else they may have
done in their school careers.There
is no one test or measure that can accurately reflect who someone is or
what he or she knows or can do.No
one mandatory measure should determine a person's future opportunities.
Second, we want the educators who actually work with students to make use of an array of assessments (for example grade point average, classroom evidence, tests, projects, group experiences, community work, service to the school, etc.) to make decisions about who will graduate.We want those who make this crucial decision to consider as much information as possible about each student so that they can make the best possible decision.
Third, the educational resources of the state should be focused on serving the educational needs of our students and educators rather than lining the pockets of testing companies and consultants.The state has spent around 100 million dollars in pursuit of the development and scoring of the WASL, even as funding per student has gone down when adjusted for inflation. We can either continue to pay for these tests, which are not useful assessments, or we can put more money into directly serving the students in ways that lead to better teaching and learning.
The legislature has defined the WASL as the measure of basic education.WASL scores have made it clear that those who do well on this test are, on average, white (or perhaps Asian), from homes of middle income or higher, from homes where English is the major language spoken, from homes where the culture is closely aligned to the culture of the schools and tests, and from stable homes (where students are in the same classroom all year). So what exactly are these tests measuring?
We all know many people who are highly intelligent, highly skilled, and highly functional even though they do not score well on paper and pencil tests, especially in high pressure situations.This likely includes many of those who would be running for office, or who currently hold office in our state, and it's also true for our students.If we are so worried about humiliating or embarrassing adults, why aren't we concerned in those same ways about how we treat our own children?
We are not arguing against assessment, and we are not arguing against high expectations. Teachers must assess students in ways that help both the teacher and student to recognize areas of strength and areas in which they need to grow. Teachers can then design curriculum and approaches that support students to make that growth.Assessment should guide instruction and help both students and teachers to recognize the learning that is happening (or that is still required).WASL does neither.The WASL was never intended to be used to assess individual students, and it was most certainly not designed to be used as a graduation requirement, but that’s exactly how it is being used.
There is no single measure that can accurately sum up a person, be they candidate or high school student. We hope those who oppose the mandatory testing of politicians will bring that same logic to the students in our schools and support initiative 780.You can find more information about the initiative at www.democracy.org/wasl.