State Testing Frequently Asked Questions

Families and students have questions about state testing procedures and requirements. Answers to many of the most frequently asked questions are listed here.


Why is state testing required and why is it important?

State testing is required by state law (RCW 28A.230.095) and federal law (Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

Statewide testing is important because it helps ensure all public school students receive a quality education, no matter where they go to school, because they are measured to equal standards. This information assists districts and schools in improving instructional practices and curriculum and gives families valuable information about how their student is doing in school and where additional help might be needed.

Test results are one piece of information about how your student is doing in school. Together with report cards and other information, test results let you know if your student is on track to succeed in higher grades as well as for college and career. For students in grade 10, these results are used by some community colleges in Washington to measure if students are on track for college-level classes.

If I refuse to have my student participate in state testing, what happens?

Test refusals affect students, schools, and districts in different ways:

  • Students in grades 3-8: Test results help families know if their student's learning is on track, or if extra help is needed. Some school districts use state test results to determine a student's eligibility for special programs, like accelerated learning opportunities. Please contact your local district for more information.
  • Students in high school: All students, regardless of which graduation pathway they intend to complete, are expected to take the appropriate Smarter Balanced Assessments in ELA and math during 10th grade, and to incorporate their results into their High School and Beyond Plan.
  • Schools and districts: Test refusals penalize schools and districts. Students who do not test are counted among the number of students who do not meet standard. This is reflected in the Accountability Index. Schools and districts that fall below a 95 percent participation rate on state tests jeopardize eligibility for any state or federal awards or recognitions.
Are private- and home-school students required to take state tests?

Private- and home-school students are exempt from state testing, but some private- and home-school students do choose to take the assessments and are welcome to do so.

High School Testing

Do high school students need to take the state assessments to graduate?

All students, regardless of which graduation pathway they intend to complete, are expected to take the appropriate Smarter Balanced Assessments in ELA and math during 10th grade, and to incorporate their results into their High School and Beyond Plan. When a 10th grade student demonstrates they have met standard on the test, they will have greater course-taking flexibility. Meeting standard on the high school test is one of the pathways a student can use to demonstrate post-secondary career or college readiness.

In what grade do high school students take the Smarter Balanced math and ELA tests?
  • 10th graders will take the Smarter Balanced mathematics and ELA tests in the spring for state and federal accountability.
  • 11th and/or 12th graders may also take the Smarter Balanced math and/or ELA tests if they choose the assessments as a graduation pathway and have not yet achieved the graduation cut-score.
What about the science test?
  • 11th graders will take the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS) in spring for state and federal accountability.
In what grade do high school students take the Washington Access to Instruction & Measurement (WA-AIM)?
  • 10th graders will take WA-AIM in mathematics and ELA for state and federal accountability
  • 11th graders will take the WA-AIM in science for state and federal accountability.
  • 11th and/or 12th graders may also take the WA-AIM in math and/or ELA if they choose the assessments as a graduation pathway and have not yet achieved the graduation cut-score.

Smarter Balanced Assessments

What are 'Smarter Balanced' assessments?

Smarter Balanced assessments are Washington's statewide summative assessments in English Language Arts and math. Summative assessments determine students' progress toward college and career readiness in English language arts/literacy and math.

See the State Testing Overview page for more information about which tests are administered at which grade levels.

When did Washington students start taking the Smarter Balanced assessments?

As an active participant in the consortium that designed the Smarter Balanced tests, Washington state has administered the Smarter Balanced assessments to students since 2015.


What subjects are covered on our state tests?

State tests are based on the K-12 learning standards. Students are tested in English language arts (ELA), math, and science.

See the State Testing Overview page for more information about which tests are administered at which grade levels.

Who writes our state testing questions?

Washington educators write our science test items, with the support of OSPI and nationally recognized content experts. Washington educators review final items, as well as the data generated from pilot testing. Test items are also reviewed by a state-level bias and sensitivity committee.

Educators from Washington and many other states write our ELA and math tests, with the support of nationally recognized content experts. Educators from Washington and other states review final items, as well as the data generated from pilot testing. Test items are also reviewed by a nationally representative bias and sensitivity committee.

What types of questions appear on state tests?

The online assessment system includes a variety of item types:

  • Selected-response items prompt students to select one or more responses for a set of options.
  • Technology-enhanced items take advantage of computer-based administration to assess a deeper understanding of content and skills than would otherwise be possible with traditional item types.
  • Constructed-response items prompt students to produce a text or numerical response in order to collect evidence about their knowledge or understanding of a given assessment target.
  • Performance tasks measure a student's ability to integrate knowledge and skills across multiple standards. Performance tasks are used to better measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected- or constructed-response items.

Check out the practice and training tests for ELA, math, and science.

What about cultural bias? What steps are taken to ensure that state testing questions do not contain cultural bias?

Every test question goes through extensive analysis by a Bias and Cultural Fairness Committee of specially trained educators and community members before it is included on the test. Each question also is given a trial run, or is "piloted," with students to determine if the question poses special difficulty for students from different backgrounds.

Are state testing achievement levels reset each year?

Once the Washington State Board of Education adopts achievement levels for a statewide assessment, those levels or cut scores are used from year to year. Each year, a new edition of the test is developed. Most of the questions on the test are new, but some have appeared in previous years. The repeated items are called "anchor" items. They are used to link the performance on one year's edition of a state test to earlier editions. This procedure is called "equating." Equating the current year's state test to state tests given in previous years makes comparing yearly results fairer.

Scoring & Reporting

How do I get my student's scores?

To get your student’s test scores or score reports you will need to contact the school district. Find contacts for District Test Coordinators for all Washington public school districts.

What is a 'good score' on our state tests?

A student's performance on state tests is reported using scale scores. These scores are used to create four levels representing different levels of understanding of the content being assessed:

Scale scores

Level 4—Thorough understanding of/ability to apply skills

Level 3—Adequate understanding of/ability to apply skills

Level 2—Partial understanding of/ability to apply skills

Level 1—Minimal understanding of/ability to apply skills

Understanding Student Scores provides more information on what your student’s score means.

How are passing scores determined?

Achievement-level setting, also known as standard setting, is the process for establishing one or more threshold scores on an assessment, making it possible to create categories of performance. Through a series of online and in-person activities, educators, parents, and community leaders help ensure the assessments are based on fair and rigorous expectations for students. Typically three threshold scores are set, establishing four levels of performance including proficiency (passing).

For more information on the achievement-level setting process used on the assessments, see the Achievement Levels page.

The recommendations from the achievement level-setting panels and cross-grade review committee are forwarded to the Washington State Board of Education for review and adoption. Once the Board decides which recommendation to adopt, that becomes the performance a student must achieve in order to "meet standard" or pass the assessments.

What does it take for a student to do well on state testing?

Students do well on state tests when they attend class regularly and do their schoolwork. It's also important for educators to use a course of study emphasizing the state learning standards and to regularly ask students to think, communicate and solve problems. Students should be encouraged to not put too much emphasis on state testing, as it is only one indicator of a student's progress.

How are the tests scored?

Automated scoring is used for multiple choice and completion items. Short answer and essay responses are scored by professionally trained scorers.

Who scores our state tests?

Only professional scorers are hired to hand score written responses from our tests. A professional scorer has a four-year degree, most often in the content area they are scoring or a related content area. OSPI contracts with Cambium Assessment and Measurement Incorporated to hire, train, and monitor the scoring of the tests. Scorers must continually and consistently meet criteria for accuracy and reliability.

What steps are taken to make sure that the scoring of open-ended items is valid and reliable?

Open-ended items are scored by professional scorers trained according to strict protocols. Scorers must then pass a qualifying test before being allowed to score an item or set of items. In addition to the training and qualifying processes, the validity and reliability of scoring are monitored throughout the time of scoring. Monitoring methods include double-scoring, read-behinds by scoring supervisors, and the insertion of pre-scored papers called validity papers used to monitor scorers. For more detailed information on item scoring, see the Technical Reports posted each year.

Is a listing of school and/or district state testing scores available?

The state has an extensive website for the public to view all elements of state testing at Washington State Report Card.

How - and when - are test results reported?

Results are reported for individual students, schools, districts, and the state by September of each year.

Schools can access student scores for the online Smarter Balanced ELA and math assessments electronically just a few weeks after their students take the tests, and for science in mid-July.

Every family of a student who takes a state test receives a score report. Final, paper reports are available in the fall of the next school year. Each school/district decides how families will receive this report (e.g., mail, parent/teacher conference, or electronically). Check with your school or district to find out how you will receive your student’s results.

How are state test results used?

State test results are used to make improvements in teaching and learning. Parents, students, and educators use the results to:

  • Follow student progress.
  • Identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in curriculum and instruction.
  • Fine tune curriculum alignment with the statewide standards.
  • Identify students who may need additional help.

Test results are also used for school, district, and student accountability:

May I view my student's test?

Parents/guardians may request to review their student's test. See state guidelines and forms at the Request to View Your Student's Test page.

Special Populations

How do students receiving special education services or students with Section 504 Plans participate in state tests?

A student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team must determine annually how a student with disabilities will participate in state testing in each subject scheduled for assessment. This information must be documented in a student's IEP. The team may determine that a student participate in the regular, on-grade level test with or without accommodations or determine the student participate in the on-grade alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards, the Washington - Access to Instruction & Measurement (WA-AIM).

Students with a 504 plan are expected to participate in state testing on-grade level but may use accessibility features found in the Guidelines on Tools, Supports & Accommodations to assist with accessing the assessment so they can demonstrate their knowledge and skills. These tools and supports should be documented in a student's 504 Plan.

Guidelines to assist IEP and 504 teams in making assessment decisions are available in the Guidelines for Statewide Accountability Assessments. For more information about the state's Alternate Assessment program, please email WA-AIM.

How do multilingual students participate in state testing?

Student who are multilingual and qualify for ELD (English language development) services must participate in all state testing scheduled for their grades regardless of the number of years they have been in the U.S. The only exception is students who are in their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools. These students are not required to participate in English language arts (ELA) testing, but must take the mathematics and science assessments.

A variety of language supports are available to all students including multilingual students to use during ELA, mathematics, and science assessments. These features are listed in the Designated Supports section of the Guidelines on Tools, Supports & Accommodations (GTSA) document. Some supports, like translated test directions, are available for all assessments, while other supports, like translated test questions, are available for only mathematics and science assessments. Students, parents, classroom teachers, and school staff who support multilingual students should work together to determine and document the language supports that will be used by the student during their ELA, mathematics, and science assessments.

In addition to participating in state testing, multilingual students who qualify for ELD services must take a WIDA annual assessment of English language proficiency. The WIDA ACCESS is typically an online test assessing language proficiency in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and paper testing is available for a small number of students with documented accommodations. The WIDA Alternate ACCESS is a paper test for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. For more information about the WIDA assessments please see English Language Proficiency Assessments.