What Families Need to Know About State Test Scores

In a press release published today, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced that state assessment data from the spring of 2022 will soon be available. This data shows that 70% of Washington students were proficient or made progress in meeting grade-level expectations in the content areas of English language arts and mathematics, indicating meaningful learning recovery since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

State assessments can be stressful for students and the results can be confusing for families. Below, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) will explain the development and use of the assessments and the meanings of the scores on them.

About state assessments

State and federal law both require public schools to administer state-level assessments of students each year. The tests are one of many indicators of student learning and growth, and are intended to measure student performance relative to grade-level learning goals. On a broad scale, test scores can influence investments and policy priorities to support student learning.

There are a few different state tests that assess learning in different content areas. The assessment data released today comes from the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), the Washington Access to Instruction and Measurement (WA-AIM), and Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS).

The SBA focuses on the content areas of English language arts (ELA) and mathematics and is administered to students in grades 3–8 and 10. The WA-AIM is administered in grades 3–10 to students with significant cognitive disabilities, and also focuses on ELA and mathematics. The WCAS focuses on science and is administered to students in grades 5, 8, and 11.

There is no time limit on any state test, and all can be taken with or without accessibility features that include translation into languages other than English.

How scoring works

As required by state and federal law, every Washington student receives an individual score report for both the SBA and WCAS. Score reports contain two measurements: a scaled score and an achievement level.

The scaled score represents the student’s overall numerical score. Like any other grade on a test, the scaled score is a point-in-time measurement of a student’s achievement.

The achievement level is based on the scaled score; each level contains a range of scaled scores. The achievement levels are:

  • Level 1: Does not meet state expectations
  • Level 2: Nearly meets state expectations
  • Level 3: Meets state expectations
  • Level 4: Exceeds state expectations

Overall, levels 3 and 4 indicate proficiency in relation to being on track for college-level learning without needing remedial classes, while levels 1 and 2 indicate that knowledge and skills are still developing.

What the scores mean

What is most important for students and families to understand about test scores is that they are just one measurement of achievement, captured during one moment in the school year. While state assessments are important, the tests and their resulting scores should be treated as any other classroom test.

Additionally, state test scores are intended to function more as a broad picture of how well statewide student populations are meeting grade-level learning goals. Test scores should not be used as the only statement about a student’s achievement, just as any other classroom test score would not determine a student’s success in any subject.

Finally, state assessments are designed to test students only on academics, not career readiness, and the scores are not the only predictor of a student’s future academic success.

For a more complete understanding of a student’s knowledge and skills, students and their families should look at multiple measures of achievement throughout the school year, including attendance, engagement and participation in class, grades on homework and assignments, and feedback from teachers.

The data from state assessments conducted in the spring of 2022 should be considered in the bigger context. The effects of the pandemic persisted, as students were enduring mental health and well-being concerns, absences were higher during the 2021–22 school year than in previous years, and many school districts were facing staffing challenges.

Also, the spring of 2022 marked the return to routine testing for the first time since the spring of 2019; this means that students may have felt out of practice, and this may have been younger students’ first experience with state assessments.

With that in mind, the data from state assessments conducted in spring 2022 is promising. Across almost all grades and subjects, the spring 2022 test results show improvement, as compared with results from fall 2021. Washington’s schools and school districts are propelling this progress by continuing to invest in students’ health and well-being, learning recovery, and engagement and reengagement in school.

Additional resources

This story was written by Chelsea Embree, Communications Strategist at OSPI. You can contact the Communications Team at commteam@k12.wa.us.