In Washington, student achievement tests are untimed and the skill of listening is measured alongside English and math. The state assessment system (WSAS) has been slowly implemented over a nine-year period.

Developed in 1993, the mainstay of the WSAS is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), a mix of multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions given to elementary, middle and high school students.

Here are some basic questions and answers about testing in Washington:

What is the WASL?

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL, pronounced “WAH-sul”) measures student achievement of the state’s standards in reading, writing, math and science. Eventually, tests in social studies, the arts and health/fitness will be added.

Who takes the WASL?

Students in grades 3 through 8 and 10 take the WASL in reading and math. Students in grades 5, 8 and 10 take the WASL science test, and students in grades 4, 7 and 10 take the WASL writing test. In the 2005-2006 school year, tests were added in reading and math for grades 3, 5, 6 and 8 to meet new federal mandates. Also that year, grades 9, 11 and 12 took an optional math, reading and writing WASL, and grades 11 and 12 took an optional WASL in science.

What types of questions are on the WASL?

The WASL includes multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions.

When is the WASL given?

The WASL is given in the spring of each year (generally over a period of five days from the last week of April through the first week of May). The test is not timed, so students can take as much time as they reasonably need. Individual student scores are reported to parents and teachers in the fall.

What other tests are given in Washington?

Students in grade 2 take an oral reading assessment.

How are teachers supported in preparing students for statewide tests?

Washington has a network of Regional Learning and Assessment Centers (RLACs) throughout the state. At these centers, assessment trainers work with classroom teachers and provide staff development seminars to assist teachers in making assessment part of their classroom routine. In addition, state-level curriculum specialists develop classroom-based assessments that teachers can use to help guide day-to-day instruction. This program, still in the developmental stage, is designed to support teachers, and ultimately, students. The state is working on making these services more widespread throughout the state and providing more time for teachers to become trained in how to use assessment results to drive classroom instruction.

What are the Essential Academic Learning Requirements?

The Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs, pronounced “EEL-ers”) are Washington’s state learning standards in the content areas of reading, writing, communication, math, science, social studies, the arts and health/fitness. These standards represent the specific academic skills and knowledge defined by the state for each grade level. The WASL currently measures achievement in reading, writing, communication, math and science, and eventually will include tests in the other areas.

How does the WASL affect promotion from one grade to the next?

The WASL was not designed as a grading or promotion/retention tool. The test measures what students have learned and is designed to help teachers improve instruction and provide targeted assistance in areas in which students need help. However, schools may use the test results as one factor in making retention and promotion decisions.

Does Washington have a high school exit exam?

Keeping in line with Washington’s slow and methodical implementation of its standards and assessment program, the first class to be required to pass the grade 10 WASL in reading, writing and math in order to graduate will be the Class of 2008. Science will be added to the requirement for the Class of 2010 and beyond. Beginning with the Class of 2008, students who pass the grade 10 WASL will receive a Certificate of Academic Achievement (CAA). The CAA will be one of several requirements for graduation. Beginning in 10th grade, students will have multiple opportunities to retake the test, and they will be given targeted assistance during their last two years of high school.

Are some students given special considerations?

All WASL tests are untimed, which means students are given as much time as they reasonably need to complete the test. The state offers other accommodations to students with special needs (including special education students, English language learners, migrant students and highly capable students). The object is for nearly all students to have access to some or all parts of the WASL.

In addition, the Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS) is provided for special education students who cannot fully participate in all or some of the content areas of the WASL. The WAAS has been designed to measure progress toward each student’s goals as part of his Individual Education Plan (IEP).

Related Resources

The Partnership for Learning

This independent, nonprofit organization, supported by Washington business and community leaders, works to increase public awareness and understanding about Washington’s efforts to improve the quality of education. The organization’s Web site offers in-depth information on the WASL, as well as frequently asked questions and answers about the test, and sample test questions. The information in this article was provided, in part, by the Partnership for Learning.

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