October 12, 1998
Parents respond to WASL results
by Deborah Stone
Parental reactions to the recent results of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) administered to fourth graders last spring have been mixed.
In Northshore, several parents interviewed expressed some initial disappointment with their children's scores, as well as the overall performance of their schools.
However, there seemed to be a positive feeling about the test itself and the direction in which the district and state are headed with regard to standards and assessment.
"I like the high standards that have been set," said East Ridge parent Karen Frazier, "and the realization is that we need to challenge kids early on to reach these standards. I think the format of the test is superior to the multiple-choice format of the CTBS."
The WASL gives more kids the opportunity to be successful, and the results give me a better sense of where my child is in regards to these standards. The test is causing everyone to sit up and make educating kids a priority, and I think it will bring about needed changes in the way our children are taught. It also is going to make everyone accountable," she continued.
Frazier, although initially disturbed by the decline in writing scores for East Ridge, rationalized the situation when she learned of the nature of the writing prompts given to the students.
"I was flabbergasted at first because East Ridge has worked so hard at writing the past few years and the sudden drop in scores didn't make sense," commented Frazier. "Then I learned that the prompts given on the test were so different from what had been used the year before. Last spring kids were required to write a business letter complaining about a defective toy. The year before, the students were asked to retell a story. A business letter is definitely a more challenging prompt and the format was one which our kids had not yet experienced. What the results are telling us is that we can't narrowly focus."
Patti Sunseri, Sunrise Elementary parent, responds, "I felt that asking fourth graders to write a business letter was an unreasonable expectation. Most fourth graders aren't familiar with this format, yet."
The WASL for Sunseri, is a step in the right direction, but she would have liked the district to pilot the test for several years before making it count.
She says, "It would have made more sense to experiment with this test over a period of say, four years, all the while publishing the scores to make everyone aware of where they stand. The scores wouldn't count in a final way, but instead would be used as a tool for teachers and schools."
Sunseri also feels that the burden to prepare kids is on the district which needs to prepare its teachers by providing them with training and the necessary materials to help kids achieve the standards.
Bear Creek parent Carolyn Gross views the WASL format favorably, but advocates the necessity of continuing to give the CTBS test, too. "The WASL perhaps measures certain types of knowledge better, but the CTBS is a national test and it's important to measure our state against the nation to see how we're doing," explains Gross.
She is unsure, though, of what her school is doing with the data from the WASL. She says, "They've compiled, compared, and now what's the next step? I've not heard what teachers will do differently with children who haven't met the standards." Gross wonders whether there is enough manpower and time to follow up individually with each student who needs help.
Suzie Jambor, parent at Cottage Lake Elementary, prefers the CTBS test over the WASL. She says, "I feel that the scoring on the WASL is a more subjective, open to interpretation, type of method on which it is hard to get total accuracy, as opposed to the very objective CTBS."
Jambor was disappointed with her school's scores and wondered why they went down so much. "What was done differently to account for this drop?" asks Jambor, "and why are there such big differences among the schools in Northshore?"
Jambor also wants to know the specific changes that will be made in what and how kids are taught.
She says, "I don't feel very informed about what exactly the district or my school plans to do with the WASL data. It's all very vague at this point."
Wellington parent Wendy Tabb is not fond of testing, period, but sees the WASL as a much more sophisticated test than the CTBS.
"I strongly oppose multiple guess tests as they don't assess true intelligence," comments Tabb. "The WASL is more realistic because at least it gives kids the ability to express themselves in writing." Tabb's fear is that teachers will teach to the test because they must be accountable for results.
Like Sunseri, she would have preferred that the district pilot the test and any new curriculums for several years.
She says, "It makes more sense to give schools, teachers and kids time to move in the desired direction and put all the pieces in the right places. Otherwise, it's just not fair to the kids or the teachers."