Monday, January 26, 2009

The Perfect WASL Test Score Scam,

Review of Washington State WASL and Other Assessment Problems 2009

Assessment From Hell

I first became concerned about tests like the WASL when I saw the CLAS test being rolled out in California. It is my opinion that when you make a test more difficult, or "raise standards", you will tend to aggravate rather than close gaps between groups, and my perception (among others) is that the WASL was engineered to flunk most students on its introduction but pass them 10 or 15 years later to "prove" the efficacy of the prescribed reform program. It only appears that Bergeson's people were not able to successfully engineer the math test to be scored in this manner because of underlying massive fundamental math problems. I listened to WA legislative testimony of the woman who was in charge of CLAS who was informed that NO students were allowed to get the highest "4" math score, which explained why I could not find ANY students who had scored this high, even in the best examination schools.

When I first saw the 1997 sample math problems, I was alarmed upon comparing the problems to the published grade level EALRs. Judging which bag of marbles was more likely to have a white marble requires jr to high school level proportions, comparing fractions, and probability. There was a series of scales which was to used to order blocks, which would be a complex logic problem that I was not even taught how to solve up to my master's degree at MIT. On another problem, the 10th grade problem stated that similar triangles would be used, while a 7th grade problem asked about "similar slides", but there was a 4th grade problem using a flagpole and fire hydrant with shadows which not only made no mention of the similar triangles method, but the INCORRECT solution published in the Seattle PI did not even use similar triangles. By contrast, most of the problems on the 10th grade test I reviewed could be solved with 5th grade level decimal arithmetic. Almost none of the 4th grade problems can be solved with 4th grade arithemetic alone. Even OSPI studies concluded that many problems were beyond their stated grade level. Committees which set the "standard" never evaluated whether the problems were developmentally appropriate or compliant with grade-level learning standards in the first place.
I also perceived a problem with the state goal of 80% passing when in the initial year of 1997, only the very best school in Bellevue achieved such high pass rates. It makes no sense that it is easily achievable that every child can be taught by the system to achieve the same level of performance as the average of the top 5% of schools - if an when 90% of students "reach standard", in truth, the rank-ordering of students by income, race, parent education etc. is exactly the same as the start of the process.

I have also participated in scoring tests for one state writing project by the same company that scores the WASL. I observed officials who appeared to be moving the definition of scoring points to meet desired pass rates. We were instructed that NO paper was to be scored a "4", the equivalent of an A grade without special permission. Published results were far less than 1%, which means that students are more likely to attend Harvard or Stanford with a top 1% SAT score than achieve top writing score. I also observed that the worst high school papers in the bottom 10-15% were worse than what my 3rd grader (who wrote at a 5th grade level) was bringing home.

I've also done detailed demograhic analyses of Asians and other subgroups for the SAT and California STAR test showing such details as Asians being over-represented at both the top AND worst test score, and Filipinos scoring above the average overall, even if they lag the top Asian groups, and African American in Washington scoring relatively higher than most other states, even if they still lag other groups. I do believe there are deep structural differences between ethnic communities that cannot simply be legislated away, or made to disappear merely by redesigning an assessment system as one of many promises of WASL and ed reform. Neither can the "bell curve", which exists within as between all subgroupings of humanity can be easily dismissed as a political fiction. WASL scores also have a bell curve distribution, with fewer at the right and left tails, and most near the middle of performance levels.

Perfect Score Scam

I would like to call your attention to both the recent news articles released by OSPI of students in elementary school who received pefect WASL scores. Contrast that to my son's recent 10th grade writing test which was a PERFECT score. His PSAT scores put in somewhere in the top 10 percent of high school students. According to the OSPI, fewer than 1% of students receive a perfect score in any one test, let alone all 3. This would be consistent with scoring I saw for NC where fewer than 1% were allowed a top score of "4". Yet I asked OSPI how many 10th graders got a perfect score in writing, and the reply was over 18 percent. That is one in five. Nothing on the OSPI website provides enough information to establish the value of a perfect score such as a distribution.

This means that any "A" student probably got a perfect score as well as many "B" students. Scored sample papers show that anything higher than a "2" must have been a passing score, yet the worst papers were scarcely better and had similar errors to the best 4th grade papers. Bergeson claimed that 90% of students passed a high WASL standard. How could ANY standard passed by 90% of students be called high? What would happen to "high" standards if the University of Washington guaranteed admission to all but the lowest 10% of the class? If Washington students are anything like the papers I graded, the lowest 10% write at a 3rd or 4th grade level. That would mean that the WASL, which was justified because too many student were passing at a 4th grade level, has set a 10th grade "standard" that has been deliberately and deceptively at a 4th grade elementary school level. It would also mean that it would be equivalent or perhaps even harder for a person to pass the 4th grade WASL standard than the 10th grade standard.

Have you ever heard of a test with a curve scaled such 20% of students bump up against the right wall at the highest score while only 10 percent fail? And how can this be the case when at the elementary level, it has been scaled so that 20-40% fail and fewer than 1% get a perfect score? These are parts of the same system with identical grade-appropriate definitions of achievement? This is a scam that must be exposed so that Washington citizens know how badly the system was run.


While I had an opportunity to provide input on the new math standards, there has been essentially no response to my criticism of the problem solving standards which clearly ask students to solve problems that are many grade levels ahead. For example, kindergarteners are asked to compute how many fingers there are if 3 children who need gloves. Kindergarteners are not even taught formal addition, yet this would be a good introduction to multiplication which is not introduced until 2nd grade even at a conceptual level. It gets much worse at higher grade levels, and it is exactly the same problem as with the original 4th grade WASL test. There is a tangram problem that would probably be difficult for a college graduate like you to solve at the 4th or 5th grade level.

Once something is called "problem solving" then it becomes an excuse to expect mastery of a problem far before the grade level at which the formal solution method is introduced. Thus kindergarteners have to figure out how to solve a problem they will be explicitly taught in 3rd grade, and 4th graders figure out statistics problems that textbooks will cover in 8th grade, etc. This is problem which is a unique feature of "standards-based" fuzzy mathematics.

Higher Standards Fraud

"Higher standards" often merely takes problems that would be outrageously difficult for most adults and makes them requirements for lower grade level students. Another example from Marc Tucker's "New Standards" was proposing that 4th graders design a bike trailer with 3-view drawing and parts list down to the cotter pin. The high school example was a student building a hybrid car from scratch with a "motor donated by the power company" and "some assistance in welding the suspension frame" from his teacher in six months, in addition to a normal high school homework and activity load. Right. Would you like to guess how many man-months it would take for Honda to produce such a prototype from the drawing board to completion? Bellevue's Riley superindent made national fame for proposing requiring that all high school students take and pass AP level courses. Yet how can it make any sense to REQUIRE a COLLEGE level course just to get a high school diploma, and how does that help students who can barely muster elementary school level reading and math skills? We can have all students succeed only if we emphasize the grade-level basic skills that nearly all students CAN learn if it is taught and tested that they have learned it. Some students can and will achieve beyond grade level, but we cannot achieve parity merely by requiring that all student perform beyond was used to be a reasonable grade level. The purpose of a public education to simply provide AN education, a seat in a schoolhouse for a standard number of hours. The end goal of education should not be to require nor promise anybody's notion of "high" or "world class" standards.

The ESHB 1209 education deform act of 1993 that was passed more or less identically across many, many states including Oregon, Texas, and Massachusetts _IS_ the problem. It's not too many kids scoring too low. There is NO failing or pasing score on a true standardized test. 50% of students will always score below the median, which is grade level. The real problem is government acting like Asian Parents Who Go Crazy at B+ demanding everybody meet higher standards until they puke. What we do need is to get rid of the notion that everybody must get an A and anybody who is below average is a failure. We need to give out MORE not fewer honest D grades. We should teach our children (and parents) it is OK to get an honest D if it only means you are as far below average as an A is above, and C means average or lower.

Liberals say it's materialistic to pursue more stuff, yet if group A gets better scores than group B, then it's a crisis that can only be solved with a new math standards (which have been abandoned as stupid) a new certificate of mastery (which was abandoned as stupid), and a new WASL assesssment (which is about to be abandoned as stupid) If those are the three legs of the Outcome Based Education stool ( which was called "higher standards because OBE was abandoned as stupid) doesn't that mean the EDUCATION REFORM HAS FAILED BECAUSE IT WAS STUPID??

My kids don't need more class hours, more class days, more PE homework (When in the blazes did they need to assign PE homework??), more parent volunteer time, more service and graduation requirements, more math beyond calculus, more assessments. They don't have to score better than students in any other country or any other class or race. THEY DON'T NEED MORE ANYTHING. We just need a BASIC FREAKING EDUCATION. ARGH.

If you read this please post a comment if you think education has gone out of control.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Crazy WASL+ 5th Grade Sight Reading Standard, 10th grade Cubist portrait revised

Somebody asked me where the link to the wacky 5th grade sight reading / singing exercise was and looks like it's gone, but it's been revised. Here was my previous review from a year ago: which complains about asking students to draw a cubist picture of a friend with nipples showing through her shirt or as surrealist lipstick on a garage door. Fifth graders were asked to pick an animal, and compose and sing their own song, as well as sing BY SIGHT a melody from sheet music they had never performed before. Most fifth graders are doing well if they can sing along with kumbaya to a CD player. Most college music majors don't have to, and could not pass such a test.

Well, they've revised standards at here: and the classroom based assessment from hell has been improved to "from heck". This whole thing has to be chucked into the can, not just "revised".

The new "zoo tunes" at allows you to play an instrument rather than sing to perform the composition, and it does not require sight-singing, which is still in the 8th grade version

"Students are asked to perform a sight-singing exercise of four measures of music. Students will be assessed on their understanding of rhythm and steady beat and their ability to perform in the designated key with accurate interval changes, acappella." but the actual test is not posted. My violin teacher was professor at U Washington for string majors, and NONE of his students had to, or even was likely to be able to pass such a test to get a music major degree in COLLEGE.

Here's what they ask 5th graders, it's still completely crazy.

A local zoo is looking for fifth grade music students to entertain its visitors during the summer. You are a musician who would like to be one of the entertainers. The zoo director requires you to perform the following task to determine whether you are selected.

During your audition, the zoo director asks you to create a composition about an animal. Your composition must follow the audition guidelines. You will be evaluated on your use of different musical elements and form. The zoo director requires that you perform your composition with your voice or instrument and fill out a response sheet regarding your composition.
The zoo director tells you that you must meet the following guidelines for creating your composition:
• Choose an animal and determine the voice or instrument that represents it best.(WTF?)
• Write a composition in ABA form using standard or non-standard notation. (WTF?)
• Correctly label each section of the composition using the letters A, B, and A.
• Create a composition that is 12 measures or more in length - example: Section A is 4 measures, Section B is 4 measures, then repeat the four measures of Section A again.(Do 5th graders know what a measure IS?)
(Note: If you are using non-standard notation your piece will run approximately 15- 20 seconds in length.)
• Notate your composition either on the staff paper or on the blank paper provided, so that it is readable and performable. If using non-standard notation, a legend or definition of symbols should be included.
• Demonstrate at least three of the following musical elements in your notation while portraying your animal:
· beat
· rhythm
· pitch
· melody
· harmony
· texture
· timbre/tone color (WTF?)
· dynamics
· tempo
(Some of this is college music theory level stuff)
For your performance, the zoo director requires you to:
• tell what animal you chose,(and not why?)
• identify the musical elements (3 minimum) you chose to portray your animal,
• identify how the musical elements you chose reflect the animal,
• perform your composition in ABA form,
• perform your piece without noticeable interruption, and
• perform using proper technique for your voice or instrument.
The zoo director expects you to create, rehearse, and perform your composition. Then fill out the response sheet provided.

The visual arts exercise that expected 10th graders to paint or draw realistic portraits using impressionist, cubist, or surrealist techniques and explain how color values supported 3D with samples that were in black and white, putting lipstick on a garage door, or had a distorted face with nipples showing is now "revised" into a vegetable still life. Nobody came back to me to agree that this was a truly stupid assessment.

Here's the new version:

A Vegetarian Palette-Still Life Revised 2008
Students are asked to create a realistic and still life composition of an arrangement of fruits and/or vegetables for the front cover of a new vegetarian cookbook. Students will be assessed on their application of the elements and principles of design.

These tests are still clearly created by people who have no freaking idea of what they are doing, they know the buzzwords but they have no idea of average or below average kids are doing. These are standards that even the top 1% most talented students may be expected to fail.

Here's what the revised one looks like, it's stil way beyond what most adults can do:

The Vegetarian Palette

A publishing company wants to hire you as an illustrator to create a realistic drawing or painting for the front cover of a new vegetarian cookbook. As an artist, you are interested in being hired for this job. In order to be considered for this job, you must create a still life illustration from observation using the following guidelines.

Using the elements of form, color, value, space, and implied line you will create a still life illustration of an arrangement of at least three fruits and/or vegetables. Your still life illustration will also be evaluated on your use of the principles of organization: contrast, emphasis and proportion. The editor has asked that you not use any text with or on your drawing or painting.

The art editor of the publishing company will review and evaluate your still life illustration. You must submit your still life illustration and your written response about your still life illustration.

The art editor also requires the following elements in your still life:

· A medium of your choice (watercolor, pastel, color medium, and/or digital medium such as: Photoshop, Illustrator, Paint, Maya, 3-D Studio Max, etc.
· A paper size that is no smaller than 9-by-12 inches or larger than 12-by-18 inches.
· Realistic depiction, drawn from observation of the arrangement of fruits and/or vegetables
(Note: CBPAs pilot student samples utilized at least three examples of fruit or vegetables)
· The still life must appear to be on a surface and not float by using a cast shadow, a background line or other way of implying it is on a solid surface.
· Use of the elements of implied line, form, shape, value, space, color, and texture to represent your
still life.
· Produce a range of color values and gradations to create the illusion of realistic forms in your still life illustration.
· Blend and layer color intentionally and purposefully within your illustration to create depth, contrast and/or emphasis
· Use actual, saturated and reflected color to record your observations emphasizing form.
· Use implied lines rather than outlined edges to create and emphasize form within your illustration.
· Use the principles of contrast, emphasis and realistic proportion to organize the illustration.

After you have completed your still life, the art editor requires you to:

· Give an example of how you used each of the elements: implied line, form, texture, color value, blended and layered color and space.
· Give an example of how you used the principles of emphasis, contrast and proportion to organize your illustration.
· Use visual arts vocabulary correctly.

The art editor has allowed you adequate time to complete the illustration. You will have 20-30 minutes to complete your written response.

1. Describe how you used each of elements and principles listed below to create a realistic still life illustration. Provide specific examples from your work using art vocabulary.

· Implied Line · Form
· Texture
· Color Blended and Layered
Color value Space Contrast Emphasis Proportion

The entire idea behind the classroom based assessment is deeply flawed, as is the outcome based education reform movement it comes from. Please kill it, kill it now before more innocent students are harmed.