Even WASL scoring is flawed
Everett Tribune
July 12, 2006

By Kristin Kline
The Grumpy Consumer

Two Washington politicians were taking a luxury cruise and their ship hit an iceberg. Adrift in the water, their panicky arms found salvation and rescue on top of a floating piano.

Praised for their quick-thinking, the politicians were honored at a fancy hotel dinner, complete with a synchronized swimming event hosted by a local school team.

The event quickly turned sour when two students appeared out of breath and started sinking. “We’ll save them!” The politicians shouted, and ignoring nearby life preservers, ran into the hotel lobby, drug out a piano, and threw it on the top of the kids.

Moral of the story: Some things work out in an emergency, but long-term use can have dire consequences.

Take the Washington State Learning Assessment (WASL) for instance, a test that is violating Federal Laws, is contracted through a company that has incorrectly scored hundreds of thousands of tests, costs Washington 100 million dollars a year to host, and has become a proverbial dodge ball slamming our most vulnerable kids against a brick wall of hopelessness.

To give you all an understanding of what it’s like to take the WASL, I’ve provided the following question, with help from Dr. Don Orlich, Professor Emeritus at Washington State University:

Washington State has paid over 207 million dollars to create and implement the WASL. It is conservatively estimated that it costs each Washington school $750,000 dollars a year to plan and administer the WASL. Since about 70,000 high schools take the test each year, and it is now a graduation requirement, much money will Washington have spent in 8 years?

Answer: ONE BILLION DOLLARS.

Yes folks, in eight years we will have spent one billion dollars on a sinking piano. And I answered the question correctly, unlike The Pearson Education Measurement, the company Washington contracts to prepare our WASL. They have racked up more scoring errors on their tests than the referees at the Superbowl last year. Just a few examples of their botched work include 204,000 tests in Washington, 5,739 in Minnesota, and 12,000 in Arizona.

They have wrecked the futures of so many kids due to testing incompetence that multi-million dollar lawsuits started piling up. They now have a disclaimer for their tests stating the test shouldn’t be used to determine graduation.

But that didn’t stop Washington from making it a graduation requirement beginning 2008. So now our state will be held accountable for any lawsuits arising over the WASL, and the first was filed a couple months ago in Tacoma.

So why hasn’t our State Superintendent of Public Instruction and WASL brain child Terry Bergeson addressed this issue? It hasn’t been addressed because she doesn’t seem to care. In fact, she thinks people should stop acting like taking a test is the end of the world.

Well, I hate to get in an argument in the middle of a column, Ms. Bergeson, but to all of our kids in Washington who are now required to pass the WASL in order to graduate, it IS the end of the world when you fail a test. Especially one where kids have a 30% chance of being scored incorrectly.

Maybe we should enact new legislation requiring all Washington election ballots to be counted by the same company that corrects our WASL. Things would probably change quicker than a politician can spend a tax dollar.

Juanita Doyon, director of Mothers Against WASL, is concerned not only about dubious correction, but the fact the WASL violates Federal Laws. The No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for testing of our children, does not make it a graduation requirement. Her organization is meeting with an attorney in July to discuss legal action.

Her first concern is that parents have had no access to test scores, despite a Federal Law stating a parent has within 45 days after requesting a child’s record to receive it. Doyan urges all parents to request copies of their child’s test in order to put pressure on the state to provide them. Her website, www.mothersagainstwasl.org provides information on how to request information and what you can do to help your child.

Though new legislation has added alternate means of graduation after your child has failed the WASL three times, Doyan says the fact kids still have to fail it three times before considering other options is wrong.

My most pressing concern is for the kids who fail to pass the WASL and give up. Dr. Orlich, who has received three national awards for his work including a recent one from the ASCD for a paper he wrote on the WASL, said we are going to see severe social consequences because of the WASL.

Our school Achievement gaps are being raised so high the bottom is falling out and our kids are landing on the streets. All for a test that doesn’t even measure essential skills and knowledge. It measures thinking. It enacts a “new learning model” based on a “Possibilities School” which has foundations in a new age religion called Theosophy.

For the record, I am a supporter of anyone practicing whatever type of religion or non-religion they chose. I don’t mind if people want to pray in schools and I don’t mind if they don’t. But the last time we mixed religion with state, we got the Salem Witch Trials.

Next week, I will be continuing my column on the WASL, presenting information most parents haven’t heard of and will be amazed to find out. In the meantime, I appreciate any feedback from parents, students and teachers on the WASL. You can reach me at kristin_k@comcast.net.