Last WASL test results due Friday

Results from the spring Washington Assessment of Student Learning will be released by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn on Friday.

It’s the last great gasp of a high-stakes test whose many critics have called it cumbersome and onerous. Others have held fast to the 12-year-old WASL as a valid way to help ensure students are ready for the next grade, or for the world after high school.

Dorn, elected last year in part on a platform to junk the WASL, will replace it in the coming academic year with a set of new exams. They’ll be shorter, feature more multiple-choice questions and will move gradually toward a computer test-taking format.

Final WASL testing is under way this week for stragglers still needing to pass the exams. Their results will be available this fall.

Results from the 2009 WASL, taken last spring by thousands across the state, will stand as a major measure of how much Washington students know in core subjects such as reading, writing and math.

A year ago, WASL reading and math scores stalled out at most grade levels statewide. There were some modest gains among high school students in meeting graduation requirements in 2008.

The rollout Friday will be carefully watched by parents, teachers, administrators, community members, and, of course, students – although there will be fewer of the latter affected this time.

Dorn, in a move to save some $500,000, nixed the WASL for ninth-graders.

So if the test is changing, will the results of the “Old WASL” be meaningful?

Yes, says the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“It’s not the tests that are the yardstick, but the learning standards that are assessed on the tests,” OSPI spokesman Chris Barron said Monday.

Peninsula School District Superintendent Terry Bouck said WASL results help school leaders evaluate teaching in ways big and small. The numbers can be compared year-to-year to assess growth or spot weaknesses in districts or schools, while individual scores can pinpoint things an individual child needs to work on, he said.

The name doesn’t matter, Bouck added. “There will always be a test” of some kind. And it will always be just one measure of how well schools are doing, he said.

High school students in all grades must take and pass specific tests in order to graduate. If you’ve taken and passed the reading and writing WASL, you’re in good shape. If you still need to meet state standards, your fate will be left to the new tests.

The WASL will be replaced next year at the high school level by the High School Proficiency Exam. Students in third-through-eighth-grades will take the new Measurements of Student Progress. It will be shorter than the WASL.

About a quarter of the state’s sixth-through-eighth-graders are expected to take their exams online next spring, according to OSPI.

Dorn plans to have the majority of state testing online by the spring of 2012.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659