South Kitsap High School students already taking new proficiency test

The latest standardized testing is underway at South Kitsap High School — and throughout Washington.

Sophomores began taking the High School Proficiency Exam this week, while students in third through eighth grade will take the Measurements of Student Progress in May.

Those tests replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which had been in place for more than a decade. The WASL had drawn criticism from both educators and parents, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn vowed to replace it during his successful 2008 campaign.

Three subjects — math, reading and science — were administered during the WASL with each section generally requiring two days to test.

The HSPE is shorter. Students will take a one-day reading exam and two-day writing test this week. Next month, they will have one-day tests in both math and science.

South Kitsap principal Jerry Holsten said two proctors were assigned to each room where the HSPE was given. He said the exam ran smoothly Tuesday, and he hopes the same testing process will remain in place for several years.

“It would be nice to have some consistency,” he said. “It’s not the same student population that is getting assessed every year, but at least we can have the targets where we can tell kids what we need to be working on.”

South Kitsap School District director of instructional services Shannon Thompson said students who fail the math portion of the exam still can earn their diploma by passing two math classes as upperclassmen.

The HSPE will be taken by all sophomores — Thompson said there are 746 — in addition to some juniors and seniors who previously failed the WASL. Students must pass the HSPE or previously the WASL to graduate. Some special education students are permitted to receive accommodations or even take an alternative test.

Teachers administering the exam were not available for comment, but Thompson said many like the shorter exam because students miss less class time.

“We try and create schedules that are going to benefit students so they don’t get testing fatigue,” she said. “It provides fewer disruptions in the calendar.”

The new tests also eliminate what were called extended-response questions. Those questions on the math, reading and science tests were worth four points on the WASL and required students to write lengthier answers.

Thompson was not as enthusiastic about losing that portion of the test.

“They did give students an opportunity to explain their thinking,” she said. “Historically, students in South Kitsap did well on those items.”

But critics contended that those questions lend themselves to subjectivity. The new exam is limited to multiple choice or short-answer questions. But the writing test still will have some essay questions.

The paper-and-pencil exam taking days also could be over soon. Thompson said the state plans to administer all tests on computers by 2012. For now, the only test site that uses computers for testing is the Explorer Academy. Students at that site are provided an identification name and password as they sign on.

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