WASL test is government attempt to shame our schools


Every day, as I hear from parents throughout the state asking for information about how to opt children out of the WASL, asking for anti-WASL buttons and asking for help to deal with difficult situations in school surrounding WASL tests and "higher standards," I have to wonder just what the powers that be are thinking.

It's been three years since I began fighting high-stakes testing in our state and nationally. Little has changed for the better where the Washington Assessment of Student Learning is concerned. What is worse, the high stakes are now being pounded with the federal hammer known as the No Child Left Behind act.

As local teachers are being forced to conform to state and federally mandated standards for teaching methods and content, parents are rapidly losing any voice we once had in our children's education. Federalized, state-enforced, standards-based education is condescending at best, unconstitutional at worst.

Our own state school superintendent, Terry Bergeson, is fond of saying that if parents understood the current reform of education, we would agree and go along with it without all this rebellion.

I have news for her. We understand, and our rebellion is getting stronger and louder.

When federal Secretary of Education Rod Paige claims that "shame" is his greatest "weapon" for school improvement, it is clear that our neighborhood schools are under attack.

In order to shame teachers, parents and students, a case must be made that our schools, our families and our children are failing. Our state testing system aids and abets Paige's goal of shaming, by labeling more than 60 percent of the children who take it as "substandard."

It is interesting that it does this even while Washington's public school students are excelling on SATs and other national tests, and our schools are far above national average according to other indicators.

Do some of our schools, families and children struggle? Of course they do, but high-stakes testing and control from above aren't the remedy to these struggles. And WASL tests, with all their expense and hype, are not telling us anything we didn't already know.

A government bent on demoralizing our schools, a test designed to fail our children - it is time for parents to ask ourselves: In whom do we trust?

Do we trust a state superintendent who stands by a test that labels 95 percent of our schools failing by federal law? Do we trust the Partnership for Learning - the education arm of the business-dominated Washington Roundtable - which continues to push for a Certificate of Mastery requirement based on WASL?

Do we trust a testing company, Riverside Publishing, that has presented tests containing joke questions about Mary Kay Letourneau and other less humorous mistakes each year?

Do we trust a scoring company, NCS Pearson, which has misscored WASL tests in the past and has been embroiled in a lawsuit in Minnesota for misgrading thousands of state tests?

(Some 8,000 seniors in Minnesota had their tests misgraded, and many missed their graduation in 2000 because their tests were marked failing when they really passed. In all, 47,000 tests were misgraded.)

As a parent of four children who have been taught by approximately 120 competent, caring teachers over the past 18 years, I choose to trust the teachers in my local schools and myself to know what my children need to be successful in school and in life.

Thank you anyway, Partnership for Learning, Terry Bergeson, Riverside Publishing, NCS Pearson and Rod Paige, but kindly get out of my child's class.

Juanita Doyon of Spanaway is an organizer for Mothers Against WASL. She is author of "Not With Our Kids You Don't! Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools."

(Published 12:30AM, April 21st, 2003)