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Friday, December 6, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Study: Math in 7th-grade WASL is hard

Seattle Times staff reporter

Eighth-graders, pay attention: Those of you who failed the math section of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) last spring had a harder test than your counterparts in the fourth or 10th grades.

A new state-sponsored study, released yesterday, confirms concerns that the math part of the seventh-grade WASL is more difficult for seventh-graders than the 10th-grade math is for 10th-graders, or the fourth-grade math is for fourth-graders.

A group of experts convened by SRI International, a nonprofit research institute, found:

• Fourteen percent of the math problems on the seventh-grade WASL in 2001 were above a seventh-grade level, and 2 percent of problems were below. (The rest were at grade level.) On the 10th-grade test, no items were above 10th-grade level, 22 percent were below.

"There just aren't many easy items on the seventh-grade test," said Pete Bylsma, director of research and evaluation for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. "It doesn't mean that the (seventh-grade) items are too hard or inappropriate. It just means ... you have a more challenging test."

• More seventh-grade math problems on the tests given from 1998 to 2001 were written in above-grade-level language, had extraneous information in their graphics.

• The quality of the tests has improved since 1998 in all grades.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson said the study will help the state make further WASL improvements. One item has already been pulled from the upcoming 2003 WASL in seventh-grade math.

But Bergeson said the study also showed the test isn't the only reason seventh-grade scores are low in math. "We've got something other than the test going on here," she said.

And some, including Cathy Taylor, an associate professor at the University of Washington who works on the test under contract with OSPI, think the 10th-grade test needs to be tougher.

The study, however, clearly reaffirms the fact that the WASL is still a work in progress.

"We didn't get it perfect the first time," said Bylsma. "But we're getting closer."

The report is available online at: www.k12.wa.us.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com.

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