Northwest NEWS

December 9, 2002


New study examines role of testing in student transitions to higher education
OLYMPIA - Washington state’s efforts to better prepare high school students for post-secondary experiences are producing better-prepared college students, according to a new study released today by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).
The new study, “Relationship between the WASL and Placement Tests Used by Community and Technical Colleges,” found that students who scored well on the reading and writing portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) had a high probability of scoring at college level in the same content areas assessed by community college placement tests.
Although performance on the math WASL had to be much higher for a student to have a similar chance to be placed in college-level math, there was still a strong correlation between the assessments.
“This study is an important development in the relationship between K-12 and higher education. But perhaps more importantly, it underscores the need for all students to develop skills in the core academic areas of reading, writing and mathematics,” said Terry Bergeson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “For more than a year, I have been working toward developing a ‘P-16’ system so students can see the relationship between the skills they are learning in high school and the skills they’ll be using after graduation. This is a positive step toward that goal,” she said.
“Studies like this also demonstrate the value of these skills beyond the high school classroom, and will help educators develop real incentives for students who don’t currently see value in taking the WASL seriously, Bergeson added. “We have to find ways to make learning meaningful to students, particularly high school students. This study validates the idea that skills tested by the WASL matter beyond the secondary level, and that can be a powerful motivator for both kids and their families.”
According to Earl Hale, SBCTC Executive Director, “The community and technical college system in Washington strongly supports the goals of education reform in our state, which we believe will lead to students entering our colleges straight from high school being better-prepared for college-level work. This study has produced some of the data we need to decide how we can help the K-12 system provide students with appropriate incentives for achieving higher academic standards in high school.”
The joint study, conducted by Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, compares the 10th-grade WASL with placement tests commonly used by Washington state two-year colleges. The goal of the study was to identify the commonalities shared by the tests and to explore the relationship between scores earned by students on each test.
Researchers selected a sample of 3,757 Washington state high school students who took the WASL and were also attempting to be placed in the Running Start dual credit program offered by community and technical colleges. Only data from students taking both assessments within the same time period were used in the study.
Researchers analyzed the content of the WASL and that of the three most popular college placement tests - ACCUPLACER, COMPASS and ASSET - for strand/learning targets assessed and level of question difficulty. The score analysis used WASL scale scores to maintain the reliability of scores across several years, and national “college ready” standards set by the college placement test writers.
Results in Brief
Research for the study focused on two primary questions.
First, researchers examined ways the 10th-grade WASL is similar to and different from the college placement tests. They also examined the relationship between individual student scores on the 10th-grade WASL in reading, writing and mathematics and their scores in the same subject areas on the placement tests.
Results of the study show the WASL and placement tests differ in their content and format, particularly in mathematics and writing.
• There are areas of overlap in the content covered by the WASL and the college placement tests.
• The college placement tests include some material at a higher mathematical and reading level than the WASL. Students passing the college math tests were expected to know more mathematics than is expectedof a typical 10th-grader.
• The average difficulty levels for WASL questions in reading fall in the middle range of the difficulty ratings for the college placement tests.
• The WASL uses a range of multiple choice, short answer and extended response questions. Students must construct original essays for the WASL in writing.
• College-placement tests like ASSET are all multiple choice.
• The WASL was found to measure a wider range of skills and knowledge, while the placement tests assess fewer areas but do so in greater depth.
There were, however, many similarities in the knowledge and skill expectations of the WASL and community college placement tests. Overall:
• Researchers found that in general the higher the WASL score, the more likely it was for a student to place at college-level based on placement test scores.
• In writing, more than 90 percent of the students who met the WASL standard also met the college-level standard on the placement test.
• Meeting the WASL math standard did not mean a student would score at college level on a math placement test, however. A student had to reach the highest level on the WASL - a Level 4 - to have at least a 55 percent chance of being placed in college math.
The full text of the study is available on the OSPI Web site at: