Students testify against WASL
Young people say test cuts opportunities

The Olympian

OLYMPIA — Arielle Cawston, a sophomore at Olympia High School, said she was a little pressed for time Monday morning on the first day of testing for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

Cawston and five other high school students went to the Legislative Building to answer questions about their high school experiences from Gov. Chris Gregoire, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson and other state leaders on Washington Learns, the state committee looking into how to improve the state’s education system from preschool to college.

“I finished my WASL just before I came,” Cawston told the committee.

In a speech before the dicussion, Gregoire said students had valuable answers for how to solve issues involving young people in education and health.

“The experts on education really are the students,” she said. “I have never had a problem for which I went to the students that they weren’t able to step up and solve it.”

The six students, three from Thurston County and three from other parts of the state, told the panel that schools put too much emphasis on standardized tests and not enough on preparing for students’ futures.

“At my high school, the way it’s done, it was more of ‘How do you market high-stakes testing?’ ” said Cody Traub, a senior at Kalama Junior/Senior High School in
Cowlitz County. He also is the president of the Washington Association of Student Councils. “We’re preparing students to take a test; we’re not preparing them to be successful.”

“I see it as a lot of students think they can start a good life and work without a high school education,” said Alexiis McLean, a junior at
Grandview High School in Yakima County. “They don’t see what happens after.”

Cawston said she felt prepared for her WASL test Monday, but she thinks the number of students who fail to graduate might rise because some students don’t test well.

“It seemed to be like another test to me. I just went in and did it,” Cawston told the panel. “But there are others who don’t like taking a quiz for math.”

Members of Washington Learns, which expects to have a final report in November, asked how students and their parents could be more engaged in school.

The students said their peers would be more engaged if they had more control over their learning environment, and they said they want more mentoring.

“We are taught the same way from kindergarten through high school,” said Joy Lehnis, a junior at
Timberline High School. “Once you enter your teens, you have a stronger desire to learn things on your own and to be self-directed. In the current public school system, we’re not given that chance.”

The six students before Washington Learns weren’t the only high school students making a statement. Outside the
Legislative Building, Kyle Sampson, a sophomore at Mountain View High School in Vancouver, demonstrated against the WASL with his mother, Lisa Sampson, and about two dozen others. They say the WASL’s stakes are too high and it has not been independently judged as a measure of what students should know by 10th grade.

Kyle Sampson purposely skipped Monday’s WASL testing and wasn’t worried about graduating.

“Our education from kindergarten through high school is being based on one test,” he said.

“I believe we’ll have it gone by my senior year.”

Though the Legislature has approved other options for students who don’t pass the WASL, demonstration organizer Juanita Doyon said, the options, which include passing the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT), still aren’t enough.

“It does nothing for special education or English as a Second Language,” she said. “We do support the portfolio, but as far as the ACT and the SAT, they test students who would do well on the WASL anyway.”

Venice Buhain covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or