Sequim sees its final WASL test numbers

The most criticized and politicized standardized test in the state is finished.

But students in Sequim and across Washington state aren't off the hook.

State officials released results of the 2009 Washington Assessment of Student Learning, WASL, in mid-August.

As in previous years, scores from the last installment of the WASL show Sequim students in many areas score better than state averages and below state averages in other areas; and that most Sequim WASL scores showed slight declines in testing areas compared to 2008 scores.

2 new tests

Washington students will have two new sets of tests to deal with come this spring with the Washington Comprehensive Assessment Program - one set for students in grades three-eight and a set for high school students - as mandated by new state schools superintendent Randy Dorn.

"Required state testing is not going away, which is what we expected when we elected a new superintendent," said Patra Boots, Sequim's director of curriculum, technology and assessment.

Dorn's tests would use a computerized testing system that, he said, results in faster test results and lower costs. The system also will cut back on the time students spend out of classroom.

Developed in the mid-1990s to address a shift in how schools track student performance, the WASL became the subject of political battles within education circles for its fairness, reliability of scoring and cost.

"The WASL was more complicated than any test we've had," said Bill Bentley, Sequim schools' superintendent. "It did get us to focus data in a meaningful way ... (but) it was costly and time consuming to score."

Poor comparisons

Furthermore, Bentley added, the scores that went to state officials and the community often compared one set of, for example, seventh-grade students against another. When the tests and tests' subjects change from year to year, it doesn't give a clear indication what the test scores mean.

Tracking a certain group of student WASL scores from grade to grade doesn't give an indication of progress either, Bentley said, noting the statewide drop in certain subject areas from sixth to seventh grade.

"There's just a myriad of issues that come with the WASL," Bentley said.

"I think it got more than a fair shake. I think there was ample time for it to demonstrate it would be viable and reliable.

Some progress


As with the WASL, the new testing system requires schools and school districts meet criteria from No Child Left Behind that students in each school and each district score well or improve their scores. The test scores are divided into demographic areas, such as low-income students and by race/ethnicity.

The state also requires at least 95 percent of a particular subgroup take the test or the school/district does not meet the standard.

If they don't meet the federal standards, dubbed Adequate Yearly Progress, schools that receive certain federal funds face requirements that include offering extra tutoring services for students or paying for the transporting of students to other schools within the district. Further requirements include extending the school day or school year, appointing outside experts to advise the school with changes, overhauling district curriculum and/or replacing staff.

In 2009, all five of Sequim schools had at least one group of students not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, although Boots said the district is appealing seven of the 16 subgroups that did not make the standard.

Sequim has two schools - Greywolf and Helen Haller Elementary - that receive Title I funds and are in danger of No Child Left Behind penalties.

Sequim college-bound scores stay strong

Despite what charts show as dips in WASL scores, Sequim students continue to post strong scores in college entrance exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT).

Recent ACT results show Sequim students average 24.4 out of 36 on the test, compared to 22.8 statewide. Sequim students score nearly two points better on mathematics and reading portions of the ACT.

Sequim's SAT scores annually reflect scores better than the state average, and in both college-bound state tests, Washington state students score well above the national average.

While those are encouraging numbers for Sequim, Bentley said those scores reflect students who already are targeting two-year, four-year and graduate-level education and may not be the best reflection of how all Sequim students are performing.

"We will never develop the perfect test," he said. "We will use all tests and value all of them.

"This," Bentley said, talking about the school district, "is a journey, not a destination."

Reach Michael Dashiell at

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