Friday, February 8, 2013

Changing state assessments

To: House Education Committee
Re: State assessments and graduation requirements;
(HB 1450 heard 2/8/2013. Others bills are expected)

Dear Chairwoman Santos and committee members,

At this point, Washington State PTA does not have a position on the various proposals about assessments. But I wanted to share our perspective as you sort through bills this session.

  1. Please do not make a big comprehensive test a graduation requirement. If you want to make a test a requirement for graduation, the end-of-course tests seem make more sense for kids. Testing them on something they may have learned years ago, or not at all (like the old comprehensive science test) did not make sense to the kids and did not appear to be a terribly productive endeavor.
  2. No love was lost over the old WASL. Several years ago WSPTA made it a top priority to change it. 
  3. When this issue last came before the legislature in 2011, our suggestion was to use end-of-course exams, but make them a requirement for passing the class. More like a standardized final that made up a percentage of a grade. (Basically what Rep. Magendanz spoke to in Friday’s hearing.) We also recommended tests be developed for other science disciplines so that there wasn’t an emphasis on biology.
  4. If you do require passing state assessments for graduation, please give the kids an alternative, such as collection of evidence.
All that said, we do not want kids graduating if they are not prepared; when we hear about kids needing remediation to “pass the test” we wonder if they also need that remediation to graduate ready for community college, or work. Our high school graduates going on to 2-year college programs have high rates of remediation (about 50 percent for math). Making it easy to get out of high school may not help these kids in the long run. Is the problem making the test a graduation requirement, or is the problem lack of resources to help kids once they’ve been identified as struggling?

We do want assurances that all students are taking engaging and rewarding classes. Unfortunately we have seen instances where expectations for one set of children are far lower than for another. And we do hear our children say, “he never explained it; I don’t get it.” Do we just have them graduate never getting it?

In any case: I know you will consider all of these questions in your considerations.

Here is the priority issue Washington State PTA adopted several years ago around state assessments. It is no longer binding (it was a short-term position), but it does show concerns our association had with the old WASL and what we hoped the state could attain with a new assessment system. For reference, about a third of our 140,000-plus members are teachers; close to two-thirds are parents or family members of students. We do have student members, and we do have community members (no ties to current students), but those are much smaller percentages.
2009-2010 No. 3 issue: Washington State Assessment System Improvements
Improve the Washington State Assessment System to make it more efficient and focused on student learning, while preserving high standards. This shall be accomplished by requiring the assessment system to:
1. Provide nationally comparable individual student progress data,
2. Provide diagnostic assessments to determine student needs 
3. Measure individual student growth in a manner that is reliable and valid,
4. Provide results quickly so that they can be used to guide instruction during the current school year.
The assessment system must also be cost and time efficient, while continuing to meet education testing requirements from the federal government.
Thank you for the time you will devote to this always contentious issue. We appreciate the work you do.

 Ramona Hattendorf
Government relations coordinator
Washington State PTA

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