Spokesman Review


Monday, April 10, 2006

Worries about WASL

officials in the area use many ways to ease kids' fears

Heather Lalley
Staff writer
April 10, 2006

Until a recent parent-teacher conference, Marc Walker didn't even know his third-grade son would soon be taking the WASL exam. But his son, Kergan, certainly knew the state-mandated standardized test was on its way. "He shook his head vigorously and said, 'Yeah, Dad, I'm really nervous about it,' " says
Walker, whose son goes to Willard Elementary School. Though some third-graders took the Washington Assessment of Student Learning last year under a pilot program, this will be the first year that this youngest group of students must put their pencils to work. And many of them, like Walker's son, are anxious about it.

Elementary school counselors say they hear from kids every day who are worked up over the WASL. In the days before next Monday's test, counselors are spending many hours calming, coaching and cheering-on these young test takers.

"The big question is, 'What if I don't pass?' " says Melissa Alfstad, a counselor at
Finch Elementary School.

Fortunately for the third-graders - and even fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders - the answer to that question is "noothing." It's only the 10th-graders who must pass the WASL to graduate from high school.

That's just what
Walker told his son.

"I told him it's not going to affect whether you go to another grade," he says. "I told him it's a measurement tool."

Becky Peters, a counselor at
Mullan Road Elementary School, tells worried students that the test is just a way of seeing how everyone is doing.

"Our elected officials want to know how the kids are learning and how the teachers are teaching," Peters says she tells them.

Schools around
Spokane are trying a few mental tricks to help the young students be more at ease around WASL time.

At Finch, Alfstad is organizing an after-school yoga club for third- through sixth-graders, designed to help them learn self-soothing techniques to better cope with stress.

"This whole issue of anxiety is huge," she says.

She encourages students to envision a "safe place" in which they're taking the test and acing it. And she tells them to consider picking out a personal theme song, something to mentally "listen" to when negative thoughts intrude. (Think James Brown's "I Feel Good.")

"It's more of an optimistic way of thinking," she says.

Val Kjack, a counselor at Pratt and
Wilson Elementary schools, says third-grade teachers are writing an encouraging cheer for the kids and that all students will be issued "special WASL pencils."

"We bought these at the 'smart pencil store,' " she tells the kids.

"We might as well have fun; we have to do it."

Counselors encourage parents to help their kids stick to their regular routines around test time, says Katy Owsley, a
Longfellow Elementary School counselor.

"You want to make it as natural and normal as possible," Owsley says.

Try to help children go to bed at their usual time. Make sure they eat a healthy breakfast. Carve out some time in the day for fun and exercise.

Explain why they're taking the WASL and also let them know that it's likely they won't know all of the answers.

"And that's OK," Owsley says.

Walker says his son is not normally a nervous kid, so he was surprised to learn he was so concerned about the WASL.

But he understands fear over failing such a big test.

"That would be pretty huge," he says.

No matter what parents or counselors do, it's likely there will still be some stress surrounding the WASL, especially for this new group of test takers. But even counselors say that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"We talk about 'less stress,' " Peters says. "We don't talk about 'no stress.' "

Says Alfstad: "There is a productive level of stress."


PEN’s Response


Spokesman Review

To the editor;


Wow!  Have things changed in our WASLy world!  When school counselors like Melissa Alfstad (Worries about WASL, 4-10-06), find it necessary to tell students to "envision a safe place" to escape the anxiety of public school, our society is in big, big trouble!  Fortunately, during my tenure as a public school parent, my children have known school as a "safe place." Isn't that what school is supposed to be? Sort of makes me want to scream, "The WASL gods must be crazy!"


School should be, as the banner at my children's elementary used to bravely tout, "A Happy Place to Learn and Grow." I wonder if that banner now says, "WASL Till You Drop!"


If educators won't say it because their jobs are somehow on the line, it is time for parents to say enough is enough. These are our children and our schools. The WASL gods can't have them! For more information see www.mothersagainstwasl.org .


Juanita Doyon, Director

Parent Empowerment Network




Last weekend I was at a yard sale with a button on my purse.


The button was a WASL button with a red slash through it. Around the outside edge it says "Just Opt Out, Let Teachers Teach, Stop The Waste".


The teacher in the group says, I like your button, and it opened a conversation with these ladies about the test. When one of the parents expressed concern about her daughter talking the 7th grade test I responded, "Just opt her out".  The teacher in the group got very upset and agitated and told me I couldn't be telling people that. She said that opting out hurts the schools scores and therefore hurts her job and puts her at risk.


I responded to her, that I was sorry the state has made it so difficult for everyone but my first concern must be the children, so should hers.


Teachers it's time to speak out, stop worrying about the scores and start worrying about the children and your profession, not just your job. Look at what WASL is doing to your profession.


Shelley Anderson

Spokane Area Organizer

Mothers Against WASL