Frequently Asked Questions about State Testing
Statewide testing is important because it helps ensure all public school students receive a quality education, no matter where they go to school, because they are measured to equal standards. This information assists districts and schools in improving instructional practices and curriculum and gives families valuable information about how well their student is doing and where additional help might be needed.
Test results are one piece of information about how your student is doing in school. Together with report cards and other information, test results let you know if your student is on track to succeed in higher grades as well as for college and career. For students in grade 10, these results are used by some community colleges in Washington to measure if students are on track for college-level classes.
Test refusals affect students, schools, and districts in different ways:
- Students in grades 3-8: Test results help families know if their student's learning is on track, or if extra help is needed. Some school districts use state test results to determine a student's eligibility for special programs, like accelerated learning opportunities. Please contact your local district for more information.
- Students in high school: Assessment results are necessary in order to have a complete High School and Beyond Plan, which is a graduation requirement. In addition, the results from the 10th grade ELA and math tests are used to inform course-taking for the next two years of high school. When a 10th grade student demonstrates they have met standard on the test, they will have greater course-taking flexibility.
- Schools and districts: Test refusals penalize schools and districts. Students who do not test are counted among the number of students who do not meet standard. This is reflected in the Accountability Index. Schools and districts that fall below a 95 percent participation rate on state tests jeopardize eligibility for any state or federal awards or recognitions.
Private- and home-school students are exempt from state testing, but some private- and home-school students do choose to take the assessments and are welcome to do so.
High School Testing
Assessment results are necessary in order to have a complete High School and Beyond Plan, which is a graduation requirement. In addition, the results from the 10th grade ELA and math tests should be used to inform course-taking for the next two years of high school. When a 10th grade student demonstrates they have met standard on the test, they will have greater course-taking flexibility. Meeting standard on the high school test is one of the pathways a student can use to demonstrate post-secondary career or college readiness.
- 10th graders will take the Smarter Balanced mathematics and ELA tests in the spring for state and federal accountability.
- 11th and/or 12th graders may also take the Smarter Balanced math and/or ELA tests if they choose the assessments as a graduation pathway and have not yet achieved the graduation cut-score.
- 11th graders will take the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS) in spring for state and federal accountability.
- 10th graders will take WA-AIM in mathematics and ELA for state and federal accountability
- 11th graders will take the WA-AIM in science for state and federal accountability.
- 11th and/or 12th graders may also take the WA-AIM in math and/or ELA if they choose the assessments as a graduation pathway and have not yet achieved the graduation cut-score.
Smarter Balanced Assessments
Smarter Balanced assessments are Washington's statewide summative assessments in English Language Arts and math. Summative assessments determine students' progress toward college and career readiness in English language arts/literacy and math.
See the State Testing Overview page for more information about which tests are administered at which grade levels.
As an active participant in the consortium that designed the Smarter Balanced tests, Washington state has administered the Smarter Balanced assessments to students since 2015.
State tests are based on the K-12 learning standards. Students are tested in English language arts (ELA), math, and science.
See the State Testing Overview page for more information about which tests are administered at which grade levels.
Washington educators write our science test items, with the support of OSPI and nationally recognized content experts. Washington educators review final items, as well as the data generated from pilot testing. Test items are also reviewed by a state-level bias and sensitivity committee.
Educators from Washington and many other states write our ELA and math tests, with the support of nationally recognized content experts. Educators from Washington and other states review final items, as well as the data generated from pilot testing. Test items are also reviewed by a nationally representative bias and sensitivity committee.
The online assessment system includes a variety of item types:
- Selected-response items prompt students to select one or more responses for a set of options.
- Technology-enhanced items take advantage of computer-based administration to assess a deeper understanding of content and skills than would otherwise be possible with traditional item types.
- Constructed-response items prompt students to produce a text or numerical response in order to collect evidence about their knowledge or understanding of a given assessment target.
- Performance tasks measure a student's ability to integrate knowledge and skills across multiple standards. Performance tasks are used to better measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected- or constructed-response items.
Every test question goes through extensive analysis by a Bias and Cultural Fairness Committee of specially trained educators and community members before it is included on the test. Each question also is given a trial run, or is "piloted," with students to determine if the question poses special difficulty for students from different backgrounds.
Once the Washington State Board of Education adopts achievement levels for a statewide assessment, those levels or cut scores are used from year to year. Each year, a new edition of the test is developed. Most of the questions on the test are new, but some have appeared in previous years. The repeated items are called "anchor" items. They are used to link the performance on one year's edition of a state test to earlier editions. This procedure is called "equating." Equating the current year's state test to state tests given in previous years makes comparing yearly results fairer.
Scoring and Reporting
A student's performance on state tests is reported using scale scores. These scores are used to create four levels representing different levels of understanding of the content being assessed:
Level 4—Thorough understanding of/ability to apply skills
Level 3—Adequate understanding of/ability to apply skills
Level 2—Partial understanding of/ability to apply skills
Level 1—Minimal understanding of/ability to apply skills
Understanding Student Scores provides more information on what your student’s score means.
Achievement-level setting, also known as standard setting, is the process for establishing one or more threshold scores on an assessment, making it possible to create categories of performance. Through a series of online and in-person activities, educators, parents, and community leaders help ensure the assessments are based on fair and rigorous expectations for students. Typically three threshold scores are set, establishing four levels of performance including proficiency (passing).
For more information on the achievement-level setting process used on the assessments, see the Achievement Levels page.
The recommendations from the achievement level-setting panels and cross-grade review committee are forwarded to the Washington State Board of Education for review and adoption. Once the Board decides which recommendation to adopt, that becomes the performance a student must achieve in order to "meet standard" or pass the assessments.
Students do well on state tests when they attend class regularly and do their schoolwork. It's also important for educators to use a course of study emphasizing the state learning standards and to regularly ask students to think, communicate and solve problems.
Automated scoring is used for multiple choice and completion items. Short answer and essay responses are scored by professionally trained scorers.
Only professional scorers are hired to hand score written responses from our tests. A professional scorer has a four-year degree, most often in the content area they are scoring or a related content area. OSPI contracts with American Institutes for Research and Measurement Incorporated to hire, train, and monitor the scoring of the tests. Scorers must continually and consistently meet criteria for accuracy and reliability.
Open-ended items are scored by professional scorers trained according to strict protocols. Scorers must then pass a qualifying test before being allowed to score an item or set of items. In addition to the training and qualifying processes, the validity and reliability of scoring are monitored throughout the time of scoring. Monitoring methods include double-scoring, read-behinds by scoring supervisors, and the insertion of pre-scored papers called validity papers used to monitor scorers. For more detailed information on item scoring, see the Technical Reports posted each year.
The state has an extensive website for the public to view all elements of state testing at Washington State Report Card.
Results are reported for individual students, schools, districts, and the state by September of each year.
Schools can access student scores for the online Smarter Balanced ELA and math assessments electronically just a few weeks after their students take the tests, and for science in mid-July.
Every family of a student who takes a state test receives a score report. Final, paper reports are available by September. Each school/district decides how families will receive this report (e.g., mail, parent/teacher conference, or electronically). Check with your school or district to find out how you will receive your student’s results.
State test results are used to make improvements in teaching and learning. Parents, students, and educators use the results to:
- Follow student progress.
- Identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in curriculum and instruction.
- Fine tune curriculum alignment with the statewide standards.
- Identify students who may need additional help.
Test results are also used for school, district, and student accountability:
Parents/guardians may request to review their student's test. See state guidelines and forms at the Request to View Your Student's Test page.
Parents/guardians may only appeal a score on a high school assessment that is being used by a student as a pathway to demonstrate post-secondary career or college readiness. A score appeal results in a review of particular scoring errors, such as errors on open-ended items or incorrect score calculations. Further information is available at Appealing a High School Testing Score. An appeal request form will be provided when the parent/guardian reviews the test.
A student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team must determine annually how a student with disabilities will participate in state testing in each subject scheduled for assessment. This information must be documented in a student's IEP. The team may determine that a student participate in the regular, on-grade level test with or without accommodations or determine the student participate in the on-grade alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards, the Washington - Access to Instruction & Measurement (WA-AIM).
Students with a 504 plan are expected to participate in state testing on-grade level but may use accessibility features found in the Guidelines on Tools, Supports & Accommodations to assist with accessing the assessment so they can demonstrate their knowledge and skills. These tools and supports should be documented in a student's 504 Plan.
Guidelines to assist IEP and 504 teams in making assessment decisions are available in the Guidelines for Participation and Testing Accommodations for Special Populations in State Assessment Programs. For more information about the state's Alternate Assessment program, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All students who are English Learners (EL) must participate in all state testing scheduled for their grades regardless of the number of years they have been in the U.S. The only exception is students who are in their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools. These students are not required to participate in English Language Arts (ELA), but must take the mathematics and science assessments.
In addition to participating in state testing, ELs must take the ELPA21 annual assessment of English language proficiency. This is an online test assessing language proficiency in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.