Three years ago, the first year 11th grade students in Washington were scheduled to take Smarter Balanced Assessments, “more than 42,000 11th-graders — roughly half of the state’s junior class…did not show up for their exams.” The students were not required to pass the tests in order to graduate from high school, but taking them would help satisfy the 95% participation goal of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
This spring, about 83,000 11th-grade students in Washington will become the first scheduled to sit for the new high school science assessment for federal accountability: the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS). The exam includes material that most of them will not have been taught. Data obtained from this year’s test will help set threshold scores for students in the Class of 2021, who will be required to show proficiency on the exam two years from now in order to graduate. Last spring, most of these same students took the then-required for federal accountability high school science assessment: the Biology End of Course (EOC) exam. At the time they sat for it, they felt the pressure of their performance: passing it was a graduation requirement. Last July, with the passage of HB 2224, Class of 2019 students learned while awaiting their Biology EOC scores that the graduation requirement for science had been lifted, but because the “one” high school science assessment for federal accountability was to be taken in the 11th grade, they’d be asked to sit for a second science test the following spring that they would not be required to pass to graduate.Because Washington is one of 12 states that require exit exam testing for graduation, students in the Class of 2019 are required to pass tests in
three two subjects during high school: Science, Math and English Language Arts. By early May, Districts will have informed parents that Class of 2019 students are required to take the WCAS in June in addition to the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) assessment for English Language Arts and the SBA for Math (if they didn’t take and pass them as sophomores).
The WCAS FAQs state that for 11th graders, about 120 minutes should be set aside for the (untimed) test, “Students in grade 11 are required to take the WCAS even if they have already taken and met standard on the Biology EOC. This is due to the federal requirement (ESSA) that we test and report the results of current state science assessments once each school year in elementary, middle and high school. Changing the test (from the biology EOC to the WCAS) and the federal reporting year (from grade 10 to grade 11) results in some [more accurately “nearly all”] high school students having to take both tests.”
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which President Obama signed into law in 2015, replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which President Bush signed into law in 2002. The Federal Government recently approved Washington State’s ESSA Plan. The new plan is much like the old plan in that it requires tracking of performance and progress and participation on state assessments for specific groups of students based on race/ethnicity, socioeconomics, English proficiency, and those receiving special education services. NCLB’s requirements were aggregated by State, District and School and reported as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the goal of which for Washington was that students in every category progress in predetermined steps from the baseline set in 2002 to 100% proficiency in twelve years’ time. By 2011, so many schools were failing to meet NCLB’s goals, the federal government began offering waivers in exchange for embracing certain Obama administration education-redesign priorities on teachers, testing, standards, and school turnarounds. By 2014, not a single category of students in Washington met the AYP proficiency goal.
The proficiency goal established for ESSA was lowered to 90%, which is still too high. Special education students are expected to meet the requirement even though the very reason they qualify for services is that they fail to meet grade-level standards, “The student does not achieve adequately for her/his age or meet state grade level standards when provided with age-appropriate learning experiences and instruction in one or more of the following areas…” The Washington School Improvement Framework (our state’s ESSA plan) calls for providing support for the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, while , while NCLB called for punishment for schools that failed to meet targets. For those not making AYP for six years, this included “replacement of all or most of relevant school staff” and undergoing “state takeover.” The most recent Washington State Consolidated State Performance Report, from 2016-2017, shows that 84% of high schoolers in the All Students category met the English Language Arts standard. Only 42% met the standard in Math. Students in the Class of 2019 are the first required to pass two SBA exams: the ELA and Math, the state’s most rigorous math assessment yet. Now OSPI is asking these same students to squander several class periods’ worth of instruction in order to prepare for and take the WCAS, even though they’ve not been taught the material on the test and have already taken (and likely passed) a high school science assessment last spring. That’s why I’ve decided to opt my 11th grader out of taking it. I hope that you will too.
Note: according to a Washington Education Association staff member (via email), “There is no official required state [test refusal] form, districts are not required to use a specific form, may create their own, or may accept from families a simple handwritten letter outlining their opt-out request.” Washington Educational Research Association provides a suggested test refusal template for districts to use.