Washington superintendent, think tank tangle over ed testing ‘exit’ remarks

(The Center Square) – Is Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal trying to cancel some state assessments of student learning? That’s what the Washington Policy Center think tank is alleging in a blog, and what Reykdal’s own office is vehemently denying.

In the Monday blog post, Washington Policy Center education director Liv Finne quoted Reykdal as saying, “…Higher Ed has never believed in them. Higher Ed has never accepted that Smarter Balance [state tests] mean anything to them…this experimenting with tests, Smarter Balance, End of Course, the WASL, that keeps coming and going because it [testing] actually means nothing…

“I am trying to figure out if I have the authority to exit us [from testing] on my own, or if that needs something else.”

The quote came from the most recent Washington State Board of Education meeting in Spokane. Reykdal was answering a question from board member Kevin Wang about state testing.

A recording of that meeting is available on the TVW website, with Wang asking Reykdal at 55:49.

“The highest-ranking elected education official in the state says that using tests to assess the true level of learning students are receiving ‘means nothing’ and that, if he decides he has the authority, he plans to cancel state testing,” Finne wrote.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction said that was a grossly unfair characterization of Reykdal’s remarks.

“I’ve been in contact with the Washington Policy Center to request that they correct their story to make it factually accurate, but they are choosing to continue intentionally misleading their readers,” Katy Payne, OSPI executive director of communications, said in an email response to The Center Square asking for comment on the WPC blog.

“In his remarks in the State Board of Education meeting (which is where the WPC story comes from), the Superintendent was very clear that he was discussing the potential of Washington state pulling out of our relationship with our current state test vendor (the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and selecting a different vendor who uses readiness scale measures that more accurately assess student readiness for career, college, and university,” she said.

“Unfortunately, WPC took bits and pieces of the Superintendent’s remarks to purposefully cut out that important context. State assessments are required by the federal government. With that law in place, there is absolutely no scenario where we stop assessing our students at the state level.”

The Center Square asked Finne about Payne’s remarks.

Finne’s email reply included a copy of an email response from WPC Communications Director David Boze to Payne.

“Supt. Reykdal told the state ed board that higher education was no longer interested in tests like Smarter Balance and that it never meant anything to them,” Boze said. “Then he said the things that matter to employers still matter but the ‘thing that we keep experimenting with, tests, Smarter Balance, End of Course, the WASL, that keeps coming and going because it actually means nothing except to the people who want to beat up public education and they frame it wrong every time.’

“Immediately following that, he talks about looking for the authority to exit the testing on his own.

“So, the context is that he cites several statewide assessment tests as being meaningless and says that no one cares about them except critics, then informs the board that he is seeking authority to exit the state from the latest.”

Boze concluded, “We’ve done our part to make the video of the presentation easy for the public to find. People can watch what the Superintendent said and judge for themselves whether what he said is being described fairly and accurately.”

Finne was unapologetic about what she wrote.

“I accurately reported what Reykdal said to the State Board of Education last week,” she said in her email to The Center Square.

“Reykdal is doing his best to distract the public from the 70 percent failure rate in math and 50 percent failure rate in reading,” she said, a reference to statewide assessments administered last fall.

Results of those assessments were published earlier this year by the OSPI. They show 70% of students failed to meet the standard in math, and 52% of students failed to meet the standard in English.