I spoke with a high school English/language arts teacher in the Seattle School District who has been teaching for 20 years. We discussed the current status of standardized testing in Washington State. He referred back to the use of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), which was implemented from 1997 to 2009. He believes that the WASL evaluated more applicable and relevant skills than the recent Washington State High School Proficiency Exams (HSPE). He thought that the WASL successfully evaluated students understanding of the four major writing styles: narrative, expository, persuasive and descriptive. The educator felt that the most appropriate statewide testing is “grounded in reality” and incorporates vital critical thinking, reading, and writing skills, rather than learning specific terms. Lastly, he spoke with strong opposition in terms of the correlation between statewide testing and economic implications for schools and districts. He cites Pearson’s predominant presence in standardized testing and views this as another example of economic growth being valued more than effective student evaluation.
Though he was does not support high-stakes statewide testing, he believes the WASL model would be a preferred evaluation method. He found it valuable for students to have the results of tests returned in a timely manner in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. Similar to how quick assessment turnaround times in academic classrooms increases the relevance and potential for student growth. In his ideal world, if standardized tests were required, there would be a progression from test-to-test. For example, 6th graders would have to demonstrate descriptive and narrative writing skills. In 8th grade, students would have to display persuasive writing skills, and 10th-grade students would exemplify expository writing mastery. He feels this would clearly evaluate if students can meet specific standards. Finally, he found it essential that students could exemplify proficiency throughout the grade progression in the six traits of writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.
The educator was most adamant that standardized testing should not be connected to teacher evaluations. This was one of the major issues that he and thousands of Seattle public school teachers fought for during the recent strike that ended on September 15th. He stated, “There is not a lot of pedagogical thought in evaluating teachers based on students’ performance on standardized tests.” He believes that connecting standardized testing is not an accurate representation of a teacher’s effectiveness. He references the multitude of factors, such as home life and test-taking anxieties, which can affect student’s performances on standardized testing. These external influences can affect test scores and inaccurately evaluate an educator’s effectiveness. Also, he felt that it is vital that teachers do not teach to the standardized test, but continue to develop students’ critical thinking skills through literature, discussions and a variety of texts.