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Parents decry WASL survey

Questions invade privacy, they say

 

A survey attached to Washington's high-stakes test has some local parents fired up over what they feel is a violation of students' privacy rights.

Spokane-area members of the statewide Mothers Against WASL and Parent Empowerment Network are asking the state to remove a voluntary student survey included with this year's Washington Assessment of Student Learning because they say it probes students' private lives without parental consent.

The survey, used for educational research, asks how much television students watch each day, what grades they earn, how often they move, and how much education their parents achieved.

 

"That's none of the state's damn business, unless they are paying child support to help me raise my kids," said Spokane Public Schools parent Shelley Anderson. "I resent the fact that they are asking my children those kinds of questions."

State officials say that the voluntary survey is not new and that parents have the right to opt their child out of answering the questions. The same survey questions were administered with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or Iowa Test of Educational Development, given to students in grades three, six and nine until last year.

The survey will be attached to the end of the WASL exam to be taken in April by students in grades three through eight and grade 10.

"The questions no longer had a home. We had talked long about putting these kinds of questions on the WASL, making it clear that it was not mandatory," said Kim Schmanke, spokeswoman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. "It doesn't reflect on the student's scores. We're just trying to get basic information on (the district's) students."

Schmanke said the information would be used to look at students' lives and activities to determine their effects on education.

"Districts appreciate having the information," Schmanke said. "How often kids read or the kinds of things that occupy their time … schools can use these results to look at a trend."

According to a document from state officials to those administering the tests, the survey "should be treated like a test." Schmanke did not know if the students themselves could refuse to complete that portion of the exam.

In addition to a letter from the parent groups, a Spokane attorney also sent a letter to state Superintendent Terry Bergeson questioning the survey and its legality.

Jeffry Finer contends the survey violates federal law with regard to research involving human subjects, including informed consent.

"There are some real strict congressional requirements that have to be met. From what I can see, none of those have been met," Finer said. "I'm not saying it wouldn't be helpful to have this information. I'm not attacking the nature of the knowledge they want. But parents should be given the opportunity to know about this survey and should be permitted to opt out, or give consent for it."

Schmanke said information about the survey was included in an informational booklet for parents about the WASL titled "Aiming High." A 2006 version of the booklet was sent to all the school buildings in the state in January, she said.

A three-sentence paragraph was added to the 2006 version to inform parents about the survey, directing them to a Web site to view the questions.

"The (booklet) I saw came home at the beginning of the school year, and it was the 2005 version. Nobody has seen the 2006 yet," Anderson said. "The information about the survey is pretty much buried."

Parents also question whether the surveys are anonymous, because they are attached to the student's WASL test booklets. The high school students have to sign their name on the exam.

"The opinion survey is attached to a document that identifies the minor whose opinions are recorded," Finer wrote in his letter to the state.

Schmanke said it was not the state's intention to identify individual students.

"It's the information in the aggregate that is important," she said. "You can't get information in the aggregate without asking individual students."

The Parent Empowerment Network, based in Spanaway, Wash., gave the state until next Monday to respond to their request to remove the survey before it takes legal action, said Juanita Doyon, the organization's director.

"They have not responded yet," Doyon said Wednesday. "We believe the questions themselves are very personal and invasive and harmful to students."

 

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