It may be driven by the No Child Left Behind Act, but many educators are seeing it as a good way to help children before they fall through the academic cracks.
By 2006, all Washington state school children in grades 3 through 10th, with the exception of the ninth graders, will be expected to take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).
Currently, only students in fourth, seventh and 10th grades take the WASL exam.
In addition, student learning plans must be in place for those students who have not met one or more of the WASL standards, according to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This year, student learning plans are required for ninth graders, although as yet there seems to be some discussion as to what the individualized student learning plans are to include.
In the meantime, state school districts are preparing to give fifth and eighth grade students WASL testing in science next spring.
With WASL testing on more grade levels, the state hopes to see academic improvements on the middle school WASL scores, which so far have continued to lag behind the improvements seen on the state fourth grade WASL exam results.
According to Sunnyside School District officials, by 2005-06, the state will also be easing in the math and reading WASL into the third grade. In addition, fifth graders will be tested in science, reading and math, said Lori Froese, the Sunnyside School District assessment coordinator.
Froese said in 2005-06 all sixth graders will also be given the reading and math WASLs, while eighth graders will take the state's reading, math and science assessments.
While the state's plan doesn't currently call for ninth graders to take the WASL yet, 10th graders will be required to take all four parts of the WASL, as part of their Certificate of Mastery.
Froese said the federally managed No Child Left Behind Act is asking states to test all grades. Regardless of the federal mandate, Froese said the grade by grade testing will help educators to gauge how students are doing before they begin to show weaknesses.
"We'll be able to keep in closer contact with what kids are doing," Froese said.
"We'll be able to quickly close gaps if needed," she added.
Froese feels by adding WASL testing to the fifth and sixth grades, perhaps districts will be able to determine why the fourth graders do well, but WASL scores drop by the time the children get to seventh grade.
"We'll be able to get a better handle on the students' yearly progress," she said.