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Tests predict WASL success

Steve Hirsch, a clinical assistant professor at WSU Spokane, has developed a series of quick predictor tests that are helping teachers identify students now who are at risk of failing the WASL next spring.

Likening these tests to health screenings, Hirsch said, “We do it for vision, we do it for hearing, we even do it for scoliosis. We’ve never done it for academics before.”

Hirsch, who heads the WSU School Psychology Certification program and is a consultant for Spokane County’s East Valley School District, said teachers usually have a “gut feeling” about which students will pass the state mandated Washington Assessment of Student Learning and which won’t, but his predictor tests give teachers not only the statistical probability that a particular student will pass, but a goal to shoot for.
“That’s the real value of the screenings,” he said. “We can flag kids as quickly in academics as we do with vision.”

So far, he said, the tests have an accuracy rate of more than 90 percent.
Teachers find test useful
“They are very useful to us,” said Cherie Martyn, principal of Skyview Elementary School. “They allow us to predict the kids that are going to struggle.”

Martyn said teachers at her school give the screenings at the beginning of the year so the staff can provide additional help to those students who need it. Then, she said, teachers give the screenings again in January to gauge progress toward meeting the WASL standards.

“The first year we didn’t know (the reading test) would be predictive,” Martyn said, but when they got the WASL scores back they realized it was.
Now the screenings are an important component of each child’s student profile.

“From my perspective,” Martyn said, “one of the things that has been really important is that he has been willing to listen to teachers and look at what teachers can reasonably do.” A screening test that takes a couple minutes (up to a half-hour for the math screening) seems reasonable, especially when the information is so useful.

What predictors measure
Hirsch did not develop the reading test; it was developed at the University of Oregon. But about four years ago he did figure out a formula that allows teachers to use the test as a predictor of WASL success and to track student progress in the months leading up to the WASL. Then about two years ago he created a screening test for the math assessment. This year he is working on a screening test for the fourth-grade writing section of the WASL.

The screening tests are not mini-WASLs, he said, but they measure particular skills that reliably predict WASL success. For instance, he said, the reading test measures a child’s reading speed. The math test measures three attributes: reading fluency, basic math facts and how well a student understands the question. The writing test measures the length of a student’s response and the number of spelling mistakes.

“You don’t teach speed reading to make a student a better reader,” Hirsch said, but speed is an indicator of WASL success. Similarly, being able to write a lot of words and spell them correctly does not mean a student is a good writer, he said, but those are the two attributes — in fourth-grade writing —  that correlate with WASL success.
Hirsch said he hasn’t looked at seventh-grade writing samples yet, but at that point spelling might be less important as an indicator of success and some other convention might be more important.

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