Full WASL report may be delayed until fall

By Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff reporter

Sophomores will find out early next month whether they passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). But it may be September before the public learns the statewide passage rate on the exam, which in 2008 will be a graduation requirement.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is still figuring out what to announce in June.

"We have been having discussions about what we are going to be able to share, or not be able to share," said Kim Schmanke, OSPI spokeswoman.

It's one thing to give individual students their scores — and those will be accurate, Schmanke said. It's more difficult, she said, to put all those scores together to determine how the class as a whole performed, or how students scored in a single school or school district.

The chance that there may be a three-month lag between the time students receive their individual scores and the disclosure of any statewide results surprised some and disappointed others.

"If the preliminary scores are sufficient for planning for summer-school programs, and requiring students to participate in summer school, I think that they would at least be appropriate to release in a preliminary form to the public who is paying for this test," said Charles Hasse, president of the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

OSPI is required by law to report scores to students by about June 10 so those who fail can enroll in summer courses and, if they want, retake the test in August. School districts also will find out how many of their students fell short so they can plan summer programs.

Students will get scores for the reading, writing and math sections of the WASL — the three subjects required for graduation. Science scores, however, will come later.

Sophomores can retake the WASL for free up to four times. They also can graduate if they show their skill through one of a number of alternative means still under development. But they must first take the WASL twice.

OSPI usually takes about a month after getting WASL data from its testing contractor in late July before announcing final results in late August or early September. But many expected to get statewide results earlier this year for the 10th-grade WASL, given the importance of the test and the fact that students took part of the test in March, about a month earlier than they usually do.

"A lot of us were under the assumption that the results would be available," said state Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, chairman of the House Education Committee.

OSPI officials, however, say they need time to make sure what they report is accurate. For example, said Schmanke, students sometimes get counted twice if their names are a little different on one part of the test than another — such as a middle initial instead of a full middle name.

Schmanke also said it will take time to get the scores of some of the 10th-graders in special-education programs who for the first time had the option to take the fourth- or seventh-grade WASL this year.

Despite those and other data issues, however, the difference between the preliminary and final statewide results in past years has not been more than 1 percentage point, said Pete Bylsma, OSPI's director of research and evaluation. State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, a Democrat from Bothell who chairs the Early Learning, K-12 & Higher Education Committee, said that if the preliminary results are accurate within a percentage point, she'd like them earlier.

"I think everybody understands that we all want to have those scores early enough to make decisions," she said.

McAuliffe and others are anxious to see whether passage rates go up enough to ease fears that it's too soon to require the WASL for graduation. On the 2005 WASL, 42 percent of 10th-graders statewide passed reading, writing and math.

Some groups, such as the Washington State PTA, are most concerned about making sure parents know what they can do if their students fail.

Juanita Doyon, who founded the group called Mothers Against WASL, questioned the motives of any delay, saying she suspects it would be to prevent public outcry. If released in September, she noted, the results would come out so close to the primary election that citizens won't have much time to take them into account in election campaigns.

Even if OSPI waits until September, there will be a number of reasons why this year's passage rate may not be comparable to last year's. One reason is that students who were ill this year couldn't make up the test immediately. They must wait until August or next spring instead.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or