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The Effects of the Washington State Education Reform on Schools and Classrooms
RAND CORP SANTA MONICA CA
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A number of states are implementing standards-based school accountability systems in efforts to improve student achievement. Washington states Education Reform Act is an example of such a reform. It mandated the creation of academic standards, called the Essential Academic Learning Requirements EALRs, a state assessment system, called the Washington Assessment of Student Learning WASL, and an accountability mechanism, which is still under development. Researchers from RAND and the University of Colorado, Boulder are studying the implementation and impact of the Washington reforms on school and classroom practices, focusing on the subjects of writing and mathematics. The surveys revealed a picture of districts and schools in transition, with many changes occurring but not uniformly across classrooms or schools. Also, not all aspects of the reform were equally salient. Classroom changes appeared to be consistent with the EALRs, although local educators appeared to be responding most to the highly-visible WASL scores and making curriculum changes primarily in the WASL-tested subjects. Classroom-based assessment was not as widely understood or endorsed as the EALRs and WASL. Finally, the surveys paint a mixed picture about the relationship between school practices and WASL scores. On the one hand, after controlling for student background factors, WASL scores were higher in schools where teachers reported alignment between their curriculum and the EALRS and where teachers reported that they understood the EALRs and WASL. some of the responses raised questions about the meaningfulness of WASL scores and score gains as indicators of attainment of the standards. Most teachers believed that test preparation was responsible for the majority of score gains. Many teachers thought that the WASL was not appropriate for the grade levels at which it was administered. These issues deserve further scrutiny as the accountability system is developed.
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