Washington parents began receiving a two-page letter from schools this week outlining the rules and schedule for statewide testing this spring. Many set it aside in confusion.
It was nothing new. State rules for who has to take the High School Proficiency Exam – and its predecessor the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL – have been confusing parents and students for years.
Four bills before the Legislature may simplify things in the near future. Some proposals take aim at the most confusing part of high school testing – the rules that cover which high school math exam or exams a student is expected to take this spring.
The confusion stems from the state’s transition from a general high school math test in tenth grade to end-of-course exams for algebra and geometry. As the rules stand right now, some students who took algebra or geometry a few years ago may be expected to take end-of-course exams in those subjects this year.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says revising the testing rules and graduation requirements is a fairness issue that should be addressed by the Legislature.
Others have expressed concern that changing the testing rules will also lower the standards for high school graduation in Washington, because some of the bills before the Legislature would delay science and math graduation requirements for years. Dorn said he brought the issue up last year to get people thinking about the confusion over math exams.
"Nobody took me up on it last year," he said this week. Dorn said they don't have much of a choice this year. "They have to solve the problem," he said.
One bill would require only one end-of-course exam for math, instead of two, for the classes of 2013 and 2014. Another bill would delay the math graduation requirement and establish new end-of-course exams for science.
The third bill would establish end-of-course exams for science and delay the science graduation requirement. The other would eliminate all statewide testing as a graduation requirement.
Dorn says the delay bills may also save the state money, but money saved in testing may be taken up by professional development and test creation for science and math end-of-course exams.
The existing law says Washington high school students must pass exams in reading and writing, or an approved alternative, to earn a diploma. In math, they must either pass a statewide exam or take extra credits in math. High school students also take a science test, but passing it will not be a graduation requirement until 2013. That is also the year math assessments are scheduled to become graduation requirements, as end-of-course exams.
No one is sure yet what impact the national academic standards and exams covering those learning goals – which are being developed right now by a coalition of states including Washington – will have on this state’s testing system and graduation requirements in the next few years.
“There are just so many pieces to all of this,” said state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, chair of the Senate Education Committee.
McAuliffe said she can relate to parents, students and teachers worried about fairness, and to the people who don’t want the state to back away from rigorous graduation requirements and high standards and want to make sure Washington kids are ready for college and careers.
In addition to the bills that propose changes in statewide tests, McAuliffe has proposed one that would develop a growth model for schools in the areas of math and science.