The WASL Dilemma
by Donald C. Orlich
The WASL purports to (1) measure student achievement, (2) determine school district accountability, (3) evaluate teacher competence, (4) guide school improvement and (5) determine who graduates from high school. Any single test used to address five mutually exclusive goals is unreliable and invalid.
However, my purpose here is to focus on the unintended consequences of the WASL. Discussions about high-stakes tests (WASL, ACT, SAT) must address the issue of student poverty. It behooves all policy makers who have legalized high-stakes testing to at least ask, "What is the impact of student poverty and ethnicity on test scores as a mechanism for sorting and classifying children?"
School leaders and
Examine the WASL 10th-grade first-time pass rates. White and Asian students have significantly higher scores than black, Hispanic, Native American, English language-learners, free/reduced lunch students and students with disabilities. The ranges for mathematics are 52 percent passing to 6 percent passing; and for reading and language arts, 71 percent to 15 percent.
Long-term test data from the WASL, ACT and SAT suggest an ethnic variable related to achievement on high-stakes tests. These data tend to indicate that poverty and ethnicity appear to be inextricably related.
One example tells it
all. The WASL test score pass rates of one of
The report writers stated that such disparity of wealth leaves many children, through no fault of their own, at a social disadvantage. The report also noted that there is a close correlation between poverty and educational underachievement.
As early as 1962,
Michael Harrington's The Other America: Poverty in the
a Swedish Nobel laureate in economics, was commissioned by the Carnegie
Corporation for his seminal work — An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and
Modern Democracy (1944). Myrdal showed the
ever-widening gap between equality and reality for African Americans in the
The current plethora of mandated high-stakes tests, the WASL in particular, have created a new American dilemma. The poor, disfranchised, minority and disabled children have fallen into education's "achievement gap."
Poverty is a powerful force in creating educational deficits. But you will not find advocates of the WASL discussing that social issue, including the Partnership for Learning, the Business Roundtable, the Superintendent of Public Instruction or our the state legislators. One simply has to ask, "Why the silence?" The social consequence of labeling a generation of adolescents as being flat-out failures from one questionable test needs serious psychological, psychiatric and legal evaluation.
Donald Orlich, professor emeritus at WSU, is author of the upcoming School Reform and the Great American Brain Robbery. Write [email protected] or call (509) 335-4844.