As my children finish up their last week of WASL testing, along with students all over Washington state, I'm left with the question, "What's it all for anyway?" In search of an answer, I found some great Web sites that explain the importance of the WASL and what's in it for schools and parents.
What is the WASL, anyway? The Washington Assessment of Student Learning is a form of standardized testing that Washington state uses to assess how Washington schools measure up to state standards in reading, writing, math, and science. It was created in response to the 1993 Education Reform Bill and is used to fulfill the requirements in the 2002 "No Child Left Behind" grant. The Seattle Times has put together a Beginner's Guide to the WASL to answer basic questions about the test.
Why do we need it? The 1993 Educational Reform Law was passed because students in Washington and other states were being allowed to graduate who couldn't read, write, or perform the basic math skills required well enough to survive in college or the job market. The WASL helps schools assess their strengths and weaknesses in order that they might improve instruction. The OSPI has put together answers to questions about why Washington state uses this form of assessment as opposed to other national tests.
Who benefits? Students of every culture benefit from taking the WASL as schools use the information to improve their programs and instruction, as shown by this article on the Seattle Public School District's Web site. The data obtained helps each school focus their efforts on those students in most need of assistance. The WASL has already inspired school initiatives such as: enhanced professional development for special education teachers, a teacher literacy training program, teacher training in eliminating the achievement gap between white students and students of color, and the acquisition of new instructional materials that reflect diversity. Students who take the WASL have the opportunity to be assessed for early learning issues and problems sooner rather than later. These students also gain access to academic assistance paid for by the government. Since students will now have to pass the WASL to graduate, they will be better prepared for college and the job market. The OSPI has a section which answers questions and concerns about the WASL and graduation requirements.
What are some concerns parents have? Parents have voiced concerns over the possibility that the WASL standards are beyond what the average students can achieve, and that graduation should not be based on the results of one test. They also worry that emphasis on the WASL will inspire teaching "to the test" and not leave enough room for other academic subjects. Proponents say that students have up to five times to take the test in order to graduate and that tests are not "barriers or problems."
Where can I find out my child's scores? The Washington School Report Card is the place to find out detailed information about how your school performed on the WASL. The school district sends the results of the WASL test directly to each child's home. You can see a copy of your child's test booklet by filling out a special request form. If you have questions about the WASL, you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (360)725-6032.
What should I do with WASL information? Your child's WASL information will help you assess the strong and weak areas in your child's knowledge base and allow you to see where you can get involved in improving your child's education. Last year, I found out from the test results that most of my children, although proficient in reading, were not up to my expectations in math. My husband and I were then able to offer help and assistance in that area by a more intensive effort at math fact memorization in our home. We also found out that one of our daughters needed help in reading and so determined to put her in the Title 1 reading program at school for extra assistance. Thus, in my experience, the WASL has been helpful in providing ways and means to assess and help my children obtain a better education.