HEADLLINES for April 14, 2006, Moscow Pullman Daily News

Students won't answer WASL survey; State reverses itself after parents, activists raise questions 
By E. Kirsten Peters Daily News staff writer   
Published: 04-14-2006  

        Grassroots activism triumphed over government bureaucracy this week with the cancellation of the survey portion of mandatory exams in public schools across Washington state.
   Last month, the Parent Empowerment Network and the Mothers Against the WASL, both grassroots parent organizations, objected to a new section of survey questions inserted in the test booklets of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Known as the WASL, the standardized exam is being taken by all third through eighth- and 10th-graders in the state this month.
The additional pages included survey questions asking students about their personal and family life. Answers to the questions were to have been stored in computer databases, along with a student's name and WASL scores.
      Terry Bergeson, state superintendent of public instruction, on Thursday issued a memo to state schools directing exam proctors not to administer the survey questions.
  The questions will be in the WASL test booklets because they already have been printed, but students will be told not to fill them out.
"We've had a number of parents concerned about the survey," said Pullman Superintendent Tom Rockefeller. "Now we'll get the information to the proctors that nobody should fill out the survey pages."
   Juanita Doyen, head of the Mothers Against the WASL, expressed only partial satisfaction with Bergeson's decision.
      "This whole matter is just another example of OSPI failing to follow basic federal guidelines and wasting millions of dollars on these type of efforts to profile individual students," she said in a telephone interview from western
Washington. "OSPI has been saying that parent concerns about the survey were 'just silly.' I'm glad the real story got out, but what we really need to do is dismantle the WASL itself."
Last month OSPI defended the survey questions, which asked questions ranging from how much time is spent playing electronic games to whether parents help with homework. It issued a statement saying local school districts valued the information given to them by such survey data. In an informal poll of school superintendents and principals in eastern
Whitman County, none could be found who made any significant use of any survey information provided to them by the state.
Thursday's directive from Bergeson did not elaborate on the decision to withdraw the questions.
Although OSPI issues prepared statements to the public on many topics on a weekly basis, the office did not publicly announce the change in policy that it sent to school districts.
    "But we are doing our best to bring it all to light," Doyen said.
E. Kirsten Peters can be reached at (509) 334-6397, ext. 310, or by e-mail at ekpeters@dnews.com.