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Standardized Test Refusals Ripple Through Statewide Results

FILE - Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn speaks in 2009.

New statewide test scores released Mondaylargely confirm what a sneak peek suggested earlier this summer: Pass rates on the new, tougher assessments have dropped, though by less than many feared. But those results come with an asterisk in one grade.

Washington students outperformed the scores from a national trial run of the Smarter Balanced Assessments last year. That’s in line with preliminary results released in July.

What those results didn’t show, however, was what happens when you factor in the kids who declined to take the test, whose scores get averaged in as zeroes. In grades 3-8 it was just a few percent, but in grade 11, about half the students refused the test.

This year the Smarter Balanced tests are not required for those high school juniors to graduate, but they will be phased in as a graduation requirements starting next year.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn says he agrees with the refusers that high school students are over-tested, but says the new Smarter Balanced assessments are still an important tool.

“I think it provides kids information about where they’re at. I think it provides parents information. And it’s just an element of your educational system. It’s not the element,” Dorn said.

Test refusals brought the share of 11th graders meeting standards down to 26 percent in English, and just 14 percent in math. They also shrank the state’s overall participation rate below a threshold that could trigger sanctions by the U.S. Department of Education.

Dorn says he doesn’t think the federal government is looking to act punitively, though.  

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.