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Classrooms and learner expectations can be different across the hall, the school, the district and the state. Twenty-five years ago, Washington state decided that families have the right to know how students are progressing toward a common set of learning standards that help fulfill the basic rights of every student. So common assessments – our state tests – were written for teachers to use once a year, in addition to the various assessments and strategies that teachers use throughout the year in their classrooms.

Different kinds of assessments are used to tell us what to teach tomorrow, what progress students are making this month, when they have mastered key concepts, or when they’re ready for new information and thinking. The state tests tell us about progress from one year to the next in English language arts and in math. We also have a science test that we use once in fifth grade and once in eighth grade. Over time, these help fill in a picture about a student’s readiness for what comes after high school, which we call college and career readiness. A lot goes into preparing for adult life, and these academic measures are just one part of that preparation.

The state tests are not used to fill out report cards. And students do not need to pass the tests to move on to the next grade level. The state tests do, however, give teachers extra information about academic progress to help assure students are on the path to success. The state tests also help teachers, schools and districts know if our programs are effective or if changes are needed. When we all agree that one of our assessments each year is a common state test, it’s easier for us to measure student growth and ensure that our school programs are working well.