Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Why Are So Many Students Failing the WASL?

This week we received the School District's WASL update and the stats are depressing. 60% of 10th graders are failing the Math WASL (statewide as well as in the Mukilteo District). Reading and Writing are only a little better (35-40% failure rate). So what is going on?

To make matters worse, an out-of-state review group assessed the WASL Math test to be much easier than other standardized math tests.

Why is it that so many of students are failing the WASL? OSPI has posted one third of last year's questions online, so you can check them out (see link below). Here's our first impressions of the Math WASL:

The Pros:
-The math test emphasizes math reasoning and practical or 'real world' applications of math.

The Cons:
-The math test isn't balanced. It's mostly word problems and doesn't involve conventional high school math subjects
-'Showing your work' is a mandatory aspect of the test. This would be difficult for some intuitive and higher conceptual mathematics people. It can also be a burden with dysgraphics.
-The heavy language emphasis of the math test will trip up many dyslexic children. 20% of children are dyslexic. Also, dyslexics are notoriously underrecognized in the public school system. 'Dyslexia' is not an official school diagnosis, although something like 'ADD' is.
-Real problem solving is rarely well assessed by timed test conditions.
-Despite the heavy emphasis on math reasoning, reasoning per se is not taught formally to teachers or students throughout K-12. Flexible problem solving is actually a very difficult task- some may never learn it at all, and some may only learn it far into adulthood.

Remember how poorly U.S. high school students fared on that international test of problem solving? (bottom third, see link below) Don't despair yet. These kids didn't test well, but somehow the United States leads the world in science, technology, and innovation. And it's not because they ever had to pass a WASL.

There is a need for teaching critical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving throughout educational system. But it's not fair to use a very narrow definition of success to deny students the rights to their diplomas.

Taking the WASL
WASL Practice Tests
U.S. 15-year-olds in bottom third in problem-solving test
The Seattle Times: Education: Math WASL not too difficult, study says

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