Meet the New Washington School Assessment Scam

Meet the New Washington School Assessment Scam

In this article, we will explain why the new Washington State School Assessment System is even more ridiculous than the old School Assessment System. For example, 40% of the schools that the new school assessment systems honors for “reducing the achievement gap” actually had an increase in the achievement gap. The new system also gave awards to schools where not a single student was able to meet either the state Math standard or state English standard. In addition, the new system gave awards to schools with an 8 percent graduation rate and a 92 percent drop out rate. It’s only a matter of time before OSPI is passing out a Certificate of Excellence to Sharky’s School of Gambling.

The new school assessment scam is an insult to every teacher, parent and student in Washington state. Please share this important article with other parents and teachers. It is time for parents and teachers to rise up and put an end to the new Washington State School Assessment Scam.

Every year in Washington State, every school is assessed and compared to each other based on student performance. In 2018, OSPI created a new assessment system which added a few extra factors, like attendance and the number of AP courses and dual-credit courses students take. OSPI also added a new factor which OSPI claimed could measure how much a given school had “lowered the achievement gap” - or the difference in test scores between rich kids and poor kids from one year to the next. On May 20 2019, OSPI announced the results of this new system for ranking schools. 216 schools out of about 2000 schools were recognized with an award. Unfortunately, 40 percent of the schools given an award for reducing the Achievement Gap from 2018 to 2019 actual had an INCREASE in the Achievement Gap from 2018 to 2019.

Why is there an Achievement Gap? 60 Years of Scams and Snake Oil
The Achievement Gap is loosely defined as the difference in test scores on unreliable and invalid high stakes tests (such as SBAC) between a group of higher income students and a group of disadvantaged students - those students who get free or reduced price lunch. The term Achievement Gap comes from grossly inept analysis of low income students back in 1966 called the Coleman Report.

Historically, hundreds of attempts claiming to reduce the Achievement Gap during the past 60 years has failed in every state in the US. In fact, in recent years, the achievement gap has increased as the US population has split into the super rich versus the super poor. Here is a quote from a 2011 Stanford University study: “As the income gap between high- and low-income families has widened, the achievement gap between children in high- and low-income families has also widened. The achievement gap between children from high- and low income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier. The relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply… a given difference in family incomes now corresponds to a 30 to 60 percent larger difference in achievement than it did for children born in the 1970s…”

Most studies that analyze the Achievement gap report the gap in units of standard deviation. A gap of 1 standard deviation is very large, about 4 years of learning in middle or high school. A gap increase of 0.1 standard deviations is about the same as 4 months of learning.

The following chart is from a series of national tests, such as NAEP, for birth years from 1954 to 2004. The 90 10 gap means the difference in test scores of a student in the top ten percent of income minus the test score of a student in the bottom 10% of income.


Put in plain English, the difference between very rich and very poor students was about 4 years of learning up until about 1987. Since then, it has grown to about 5 years of learning (1.3 standard deviations).

As the once middle class has fallen into poverty, so have the test scores of their students. It is poverty that creates the Achievement Gap. The only scientifically proven ways to reduce the achievement gap are to lower class sizes (so struggling students get the help they need) and/or increase the income of their parents (so struggling students are not forced to deal with the additional stress of poverty). Since the Washington legislature has gutted funding for public schools in order to give more tax breaks for the rich - thereby increased class sizes over the past 20 years, to among the highest class sizes in the nation - they have shown that they are not really interested in reducing class sizes.

But instead of advocating for fewer tax breaks breaks for the rich and lower class sizes, the new OSPI School Assessment Plan uses random fluctuation in unreliable SBAC test scores to give awards to schools who had a slight reduction in the difference between test scores of the rich versus the poor as a way to honor some schools over other schools.

However, the new system is just as absurd as the old system. The problem is that the primary method used to evaluate schools, the SBAC test, is a deeply flawed test that has never been shown to be either reliable or valid. It is like trying to build a house on a foundation of sand. It is certain to lead to unfairness and disaster.

Because this new system ignores the real problem of poverty, just like the old system did, and because it relies primarily on the unstable SBAC test, it is likely that schools that reduce the Achievement Gap one year will not be able to further reduce the Achievement Gap the next year. In fact, a statistical law called Regression to the Mean predicts that their Achievement Gap scores will go back up. We will therefore examine some of the results from this years group of 216 schools to better understand the ridiculousness of the new school assessment method being used by OSPI.

First, the new school ranking system is based on the new Washington School Improvement Framework (WSIF) which in turn is based on the Washington State plan submitted to the US Department of Education in accordance with the new federal ESSA plan which replaced the failed and disgraceful NCLB federal plan. Ten years from now, I predict there will be a new federal plan to replace the failed and disgraceful ESSA plan. Then there will be a new state assessment system – and the charade of pretending to help students while doing nothing about the real problems our students face will continue until parents and teachers finally stand up and demand real help in the form of smaller class sizes for struggling low income students.

Here is a link to the new Washington State Improvement Plan released on March 15 2018:

The two primary goals of the Washington state plan are:

By 2026-27, the long-term goals are 90 percent proficiency in English/language arts and math, and a 90 percent graduation rate.

Here is what the claimed Math improvement will be during the next 10 years (from 2017 to 2027):


The above graph looks exactly like the old NCLB graphs of 15 years ago which claimed that 100% of students would be Proficient in Math in 10 years. In fact, NCLB led to a reduction in the number of students who were proficient in Math! There is no chance of achieving the 90% proficiency goal as long as Washington state students continue to be subjected to the highest class sizes in the nation.

Here is a table claiming that the new Accountability System will magically improve the graduation rate to 90% for all students in the next 10 years.


There is no chance of achieving a 90% graduation rate as long as Washington state students are subjected to among the highest class sizes in the nation and so many families are living in poverty.

Deciphering the Decile Rating System
The new school rating system for Washington state now divides schools into ten groups called deciles (1 to 10 scale). Washington state is the only state in the nation using this complex 1 to 10 decile scale. This is because very few parents will be able to understand it. Other states use an A to F division or a 100 point index or a one to four or five stars – as if schools were like a hotel. Some states like California, Oregon, Idaho and Pennsylvania use color codes for individual factors but not assign any over-all school rating.

The Old Washington Achievement Index was based on a weighted combination of measures scored on a scale from 1 to 10. The new Washington Accountability System is also on a scale from 1 to 10 - but each of five variable is scored on a decile distribution. These five individual scores are weighted using a complex formula for the combined score.

Put in plain English, decile ranking artificially puts all schools into 10 groups. And from there, it creates differences among the schools evenly distributed on a scale of 1-10 even when the schools might be nearly identical. In other words, the decile system exaggerates differences between schools. In the decile system, you cannot have a variable whereby schools are depicted as nearly identical. This new system may seem better in terms of telling schools apart. However, it hides the fact that in some areas, many school may be doing equally well such that a minor change in raw scores can result in a huge change in decile scores. This drawback of decile scoring is another reason why no other state in the nation is using this complex system. To make matters even more confusing for parents and tax payers, OSPI is combining five different variables, each ranked into 10 deciles to create the overall score for any given school. Below is an example of what the new school ranking or rating system will look like here in Washington state:


In the above example, a Proficiency score of 60% on the unreliable and invalid SBAC Math and English tests will give a school a Proficiency decile ranking of 5 - but an improvement of only 3% in the SBAC scores will result in a 10% increase in the Proficiency Decile ranking. The same is true of the Growth scale where a minor change in growth in the unreliable test scores results in a huge change in the Decile Growth score. In other words, decile scores are not reflective of real student performance. Decile scores are exaggerations.

ELP or English Language Progress means that English Language Learning students are making enough annual progress to transition out of the English Language Learner program in 6 years – regardless of their initial starting point. Thus, ELP progress is a very skewed distribution. Graduation Rate and SQSS (Attendance, Dual Credit, etc) are even more skewed. These five erratic scores are then combined together in a weighted fashion to produce a total school ranking – which in the case of the above school would be a 3 (out of 10). Science test scores (also unreliable and invalid) are not included in the current overall score but will be added beginning in 2021.

Naturally, OSPI claims that this new extremely complex and unreliable Decile school assessment system will magically help close the achievement gaps (while failing to do anything about the underlying childhood poverty problem). Here is a quote describing the new plan:

“In the WSIF, schools are measured along nine indicators. Six of the measures are academic, including graduation rates, growth and proficiency on state tests in math and English, and English learner progress. The other three indicators are new to school accountability. They are Attendance, 9th graders on track to graduation, and (College) Dual credit/advanced (AP) course-taking.”

The last three factors are all lumped together into a new variable called SQSS which is the School Quality Scale Score.

Now that we know what WSIF is claiming to measure, let’s look at how the school ranking of the top 216 schools was actually done. Download the Excel spreadsheet at this link to get the complete spreadsheet for the list of 216 schools.

The schools are listed alphabetically by school district (Column F). There are three Recognition Routes. These are growth, achievement and gap closing (Column B). Note that the first school listed is for Growth, the second school listed is for Achievement and the third school listed is for Gap Closing. Scroll to the right to see the section Eligibility Information.


There are six variables listed in this section. At the bottom of the spreadsheet is a tab called Data Definitions. Click on this tab to see how these variables are defined.




Gap in decile points between the highest and lowest performing student groups on the winter 2018 WSIF


Gap in decile points between the highest and lowest performing student groups on the winter 2019 WSIF


Change 2019 minus 2018


Was the gap decreasing and the minimum WSIF value increasing


Did school meet participation requirements on the spring 2018 testing


Number of low performing groups from the winter 2018 WSIF

What does this mean? “Gap in decile points between the highest and lowest performing student groups” It means that there is some student group, such as those not eligible for free and reduced lunch, that did well on the SBAC test. There is another group, such as those eligible for free and reduced lunch that did not do well on the SBAC test. The difference in scores converted to decile ranking is the HILOW gap. Thus, for the third school in the table above, the gap in 2018 was 6.48 deciles and for 2019, the gap was 5.77 for a annual change of - 0.71 deciles. Elsewhere, it is noted that the Gap Improvement must be at least - 0.65 deciles.

Here is a link to a 23 page Washington State Board of Education 2018 document which attempts to explain these so-called variables.

Here are some quotes:

“The new Index ratings appear to be more strongly correlated to socioeconomic status of the school, than the old Index.”

In plain English, schools with more low income students are punished under the new system even more than they were under the old system. This is because the new SBAC Math and English tests are extremely biased against low income students. The 103 highest ranking schools had only 16 percent free lunch kids while the 105 lowest ranking schools had 77 percent free lunch kids.

“Elementary schools represent 63 percent of all schools but 79 percent of highest performing schools. High schools are 18 percent of all schools but only 3 percent of highest performing schools.”

In plain English, if one looks at SBAC test results, the questions are much easier for grade school students to get a passing score than for high school students to get a passing score. Put another way, SBAC is biased against middle school and high school students. Adding attendance to the rankings also benefits elementary schools since students have higher attendance at elementary schools than at middle schools or high schools. Thus, only 20 high schools in the state got an award while more than 100 elementary schools got an award. The new system is also biased against 337 small schools who were not assigned an index rating because they did not have enough students. Here is the ESSA weighting of variables:

Elementary and Middle Schools: 50% growth in test scores, 40% Proficiency, 5% EL Progress, 5% SQSS.

High Schools: 50% graduation, 30% Proficiency, 15% SQSS, 5% EL Progress.

How to Sort the 216 Schools by Award Type
If you select the top cell in Column B, then click Data, Sort in the top menu, then in the Options tab, uncheck Include Formats, you will see all of the columns selected. Click OK. This will put all of the Achievement Awards together. There were 69 awards that went overwhelmingly to schools in the most affluent school districts in the state. Next there was about 100 Gap Closing Award schools and about 40 growth schools.

We are concerned primarily with the 100 Gap Closing Schools and columns I J and K which is the change in gap from 2018 to 2019. Here are the first 30 schools on the list of 100 Gap Closing Schools:


Note that in 2018 and in 2019, some of these schools had extremely high gaps – as high as 8.2 deciles (meaning that one group was in the top ten percent while the other group was in the very bottom). Meanwhile, other schools on this same list had a gap of ZERO (meaning that the high performing student group and the low performing student group were in the SAME DECILE! Put another way, there was no achievement gap at all. Even worse, about 40 of the 100 Achievement Gap Closing schools were rewarded for increasing the achievement gap from 2018 to 2019.

Below is a table of these schools ranked with those who increased the achievement gap the most at the top of the list:


Many of these schools have extremely low academic records and instead of being given an award, they should probably be closed. For example, check out the Acceleration Academy in the Bethel School District.

How to View the New Ratings for an Individual School
To see the new Decile Report for an individual school, you first need to go to the OSPI Report Card Page.

Then click Choose from a List. Then select the name of the school district. Then select the name of the school. Then click GO. Then scroll down the page and click WSIF in the lower left corner. Then click Details. Here is the new Assessment Table for the Acceleration Academy:


The Acceleration Academy has 193 students. Zero percent met math standards, zero percent met English Standards, only 6% graduated within 4 years. The drop out rate was 92%. And the Achievement Gap increased from 2018 to 2019. For these “accomplishments” Acceleration Academy was one of only 10% all Washington schools to get an award! This is beyond ridiculous. For this reason alone, the new Washington School Assessment System should be permanently shut down.

Gates Secondary School in Franklin Pierce has 135 students. 36 percent attend class on a regular basis. Only 20% met State math standards and only 35% met state English standards. Only 4% passed the State science test. The cost of this program is double the state average at nearly $25,000 per student. They have 16 teachers meaning that there is a very low 8 students per teacher ratio. Despite the low test scores and low attendance, the graduation rate is 71%. The Achievement Gap increased despite being less than one decile to begin with. So they got an award.

Here is the Gates School new Decile Assessment Table:


Because the low income students and the high income students did equally bad on the state math test and graduation rate, the Gates school got an award for closing the achievement gap. Never mind that only 30% of the students attended school on a regular basis.

Avanti High School in Olympia has 140 students with 63% or about 100 students attending school on a regular basis. 20% met the State Math standard and 85% met the English standard. 65% graduate within 4 years. The Achievement Gap increased from zero to 0.70 deciles – a minor change. Yet for this statistical blip, they got an award – for reducing the achievement gap.

Below is the Avanti High School Decile Assessment Table


It is very difficult to explain why this school got an award. Perhaps it has something to do with a hidden weighting factor. There are also three schools on the Achievement Gap Closing award list that had no achievement gap in either 2018 or 2019:


Here is the track record for the Open Doors Youth Reengagement School in the Federal Way School District. There are 233 students in this program. Supposedly 100 percent of these students attend school regularly. In fact, Open Doors is a very bad computer login school in which NONE of the students attend regularly. None of the students met the state math standard and none met the state English standard and only 8% graduate in 4 years. Here is the colorful decile table for the Open Doors Program:


I have written about the complete failure of the Open Doors Program many times over the past several years. It is a computerized program that offers no real help to struggling students. In fact, because the students can simply log in, students are rarely there. None of these students can pass the state math standard and the graduation rate is almost non-existent (only 3%). Yet somehow the new state assessment system wound up giving this terrible program an award. This is truly insane.

The students and teachers in Washington state deserve better than an school assessment system that randomly passes out awards based either on the wealth of the parents or statistical aberrations in a complex decile system not used anywhere else in the nation.


Two years ago, I wrote an article describing an holistic and authentic Assessment System which was not based on unreliable SBAC test scores but rather was based on the assessment system used in Finland.

Here is a quote from this article: “Finland does not use mandatory high stakes tests as we do in the United States. This has led some people to claim that Finland does not do anything to assess their students. This is not correct. Finland assesses all students on an annual basis. It is just that Finland uses holistic and authentic formative and summative assessment methods rather than a single test score from a bubble test. These “real” assessments are more useful for students, teachers and parents. While Washington state spends hundreds of millions of dollars on worthless high stress high stakes tests that have no academic value for students, Finland spends money hiring more teachers to lower class sizes and then trusts the teachers to provide students with diagnostic assessments to identify academic areas where a student needs improvement. There is also a “summative” assessment at the end of the school year. But even these summative assessments rely on student performance with assignments and projects rather than scores on tests. The goal is to aid student learning rather than to rank, label and punish students.”

Here is a graph of what an authentic assessment system would look like:


If we truly want to help struggling students, instead of a toxic testing system based on ranking, punishing and controlling teachers and students, we should use a diagnostic assessment system that identifies areas where students need improvement and provides teachers with the resources they need to assist struggling students in a timely manner. Instead of an expensive and time consuming testing system, we need a holistic and authentic assessment system that is aligned with Child Development research. Instead of a high failure rate SBAC testing system developed in secret by Wall Street consultants, we need a high success rate assessment system developed in the open by teachers and child development specialists.

Most of all, instead of trusting for profit corporations to run our schools, we need to return to trusting and respecting teachers as the real experts in the design and implementation of a program of educational excellence for all students. As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.


David Spring M. Ed. Coalition to Protect our Public Schools

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