WASL Opposition Gathers: Parents Say Test Fails to Measure Kids' Knowledge

Shelley Anderson keeps photocopies of her oldest son's test scores from the past six years in a black folder crammed with statistics about the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

"I dislike what this is doing for our children. I think it's setting them up for failure," she said Monday. "It's teaching them to think inside the box. I have three children, and they're distinct individuals."

Anderson brought the black folder with her from Spokane to Olympia, where she took part in a protest against the WASL, which is being given to students across the state this week.

Many of the parents who marched said their children perform well in classes and on other tests but have trouble with the WASL.

About 60 other parents and students who plan to opt out of the state's standardized test marched from the Capitol to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, carrying signs with sayings such as, "My child is not your data."

Anderson pointed to the scores of her oldest son, Bill. He failed the math sections of the WASL in fourth and seventh grade but passed the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in sixth and ninth grades with above- average marks.

Bill Anderson, 15, noted that students receive partial credit for following the right procedure in the math section, even if they answer with the wrong number.

"It's not set up to test you on what you know; it tests you on how you think," he said.

Denise Foster of Snohomish said her daughter has not passed the test, and is in the ninth grade. Beginning with her daughter's class next year, all students must pass the test to graduate from high school.

Foster said her daughter earns good grades, and will be trapped between taking a test she hasn't passed or not earning a diploma if she opts out of it. "This is my kid," she said. "All I wanted for her was an education."

Opting out of the test, which requires notification of the school by the parent, is rare.

Last year, about 460 seventh-grade students refused to take the test statewide, less than 1 percent of the more than 77,000 seventh-graders who did take the test.

More 10th-grade students opted out last year than any other group: about 1,500, or 2 percent of the 70,600 high school sophomores who took the test.

Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction spokeswoman Kim Schmanke said the only way to get a high school diploma in 2008 or after without passing the WASL is through a private school.

Parents are encouraged to work with their local school districts to develop plans to help students who are struggling with the test, she said. She noted that an alternative test to the WASL is also being developed.

"We know that as we get closer and closer to next year, when the test is more than just a notation on your transcript, things will get more weight," Schmanke said.

Juanita Doyon agreed. She organized Monday's event, the fifth annual protest by her group, Mothers Against WASL.

She said making the test a graduation requirement will generate more public discontent, regardless of an alternative test.

"The changes they're talking about will not satisfy my goals of no high-stakes testing, and less emphasis on testing in general," Doyon said.

Adam Wilson