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Dear Members and Friends of PEN:

Posted: 2009-02-11

Under the leadership of Juanita Doyon, The Parent Empowerment Network is an impressive organization. Join them--even from afar--and you will learn a lot about grassroots organizing--and about never giving up the fight for students.

In case you haven’t noticed, just about every newspaper editor or columnist in the state has an opinion on WASL and the changes being proposed and/or made-- and it's seldom the same opinion he or she had last year. Go figure. Yes, the voters all but voted WASL out by voting Randy Dorn in, and Mr. Dorn is doing his best to keep his campaign promises.

Does PEN agree with everything going on in Olympia or all of what Mr. Dorn is proposing? No. But one thing is for certain, the new State Superintendent believes in getting things done for students. Besides making plans to replace WASL, he has begun his term by taking on some of the unintended consequences of the myriad of WASL regulations. For instance, his office requested a bill to remove the requirement that high school students continue to take the obsolete WASL math test every year, once they have failed, even though they are enrolled in the required additional math classes. And, one morning last week, I awoke to the good news that Superintendent Dorn has put a stop to 9th graders taking the 10th grade WASL, saving state taxpayers half a million dollars! This is a good start. PEN, along with others, will continue to work on changing his mind about using a single test as a high-stakes graduation requirement. One campaign promise he made to PEN consultant Raul de la Rosa, and to me, is that he will look at the research from other states regarding the pros and cons of high-stakes testing policies.

OLYMPIA -- Every morning as he drives to work, Randy Dorn listens to Aretha Franklin belt out "Respect," Billy Ocean sing "When the Going Gets Tough" and "Gonna Fly Now," the theme from "Rocky."

Then he bounds up the steps to the old Capitol building and sets to work changing education in Washington. http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20090208/NEWS01/702089873#New.schools.chief.wastes.little.time.in.wrestling.with.WASL

If you haven't read any of Gerald Bracey's several books and dozens of articles on school reform, you are missing out. His most recent piece appeared in the Seattle Times and will give you a taste of just how fortunate we are that Dr. Bracey has recently moved from Virginia to Port Townsend. Welcome, Jerry! I believe you came here to help us nudge our new State Superintendent into doing the right things. Thank you!

Replace the WASL but do it right

by Gerald Bracey

Washington schools chief Randy Dorn's plan to replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning is a good one, but school-testing expert Gerald W. Bracey says the specific plan to replace it with shorter, multiple-choice tests is a bad one. What Washington should pursue is a course like Nebraska's, where testing ideas originated with teachers and evolved into something we might call instruction-driven measurement. Right now, what we have is measurement-driven instruction and it is a disaster, both in Washington and in the nation at large.

A Bevy of WASL Bills

If there is an idea out there for changing the WASL, including the graduation requirement, it is on the tables of the state capital. Shorten the test; remove the graduation requirement; combine test scores with other indicators of success; delay the math and science further; allow colleges to award diplomas; etcâ€Â¦

SB 5414 Implementing recommendations of the WASL legislative work group.

HB 1758 Expanding options for students to earn high school diplomas.

HB 1976 Redesigning the statewide student assessment system.

HB 1646 Making adjustments pertaining to the high school Washington assessment of student learning in mathematics and science.

Companion bills: SB 5260 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5260&year=2009 and HB 1341 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=1341&year=2009 Motivating students through incentives to pursue postsecondary education by eliminating statewide assessments as a high school graduation requirement.

SB 5459 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5459&year=2009 Creating multiple measures to meet high school graduation requirements.

Companion bills: SB 5498 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5498&year=2009 and

HB 1562 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=1562&year=2009 Changing the requirements for graduating without a certificate of academic achievement or a certificate of individual achievement.

Last Wednesday, I testified before the Senate and House Education committees, which were having public hearings on three WASL bills each. Companion bills SB 5414 and HB 1341--would remove the graduation requirement and use the money saved to implement an incentive program for graduating students to enter college. The testimony I gave was a plea to remove the graduation requirement, at least for the Class of 2009, and to address the issues still plaguing thousands of students in the Class of 2008, who are still in diploma-less limbo. I prepared a packet for each legislator, including a copy of Susan Ohanian’s book, When Childhood Collides With NCLB. I also read into the record the following passage from a 1984 Washington Roundtable document. During my first presentation, to the Senate committee, I was at the table with Brian Jeffries, who was there testifying on behalf of the Roundtable.

What the Roundtable recommended in 1984:

The Washington Roundtable does not believe that a minimum competency test which is designed to affect the education of only a small percentage of our youth is either necessary or desirable. Hence, the Roundtable does not recommend a minimum competency test for high school graduation. It believes that frequent, thorough achievement testing, timely remedial course work, and its other recommendations will improve the performance of all our young people without incurring the disadvantages of a minimum competency test.

These disadvantages include cost; the stigma for those who fail; the generally low level of competency tested by most minimum competency tests; the possible effect on dropout rate; the prospect of narrowing curricular offerings if resources shift to remedial training; narrowing teaching to the test; and the absence of clear benefits so far in states with a minimum competency test requirement.

How right they were! However, they went on to say that IF their other recommendations were not adopted, “then a minimum competency testing program should be developed.” In other words, if the state can’t do the right thing and actually implement an accountability system that will help students, then go ahead and spend lots of money to bring about low levels of achievement; stigmatize students who fail; increase the dropout rate; narrow the curriculum; shift resources to remedial training; and teach to the test, with no promise of benefit to students, schools, taxpayers.

Included in the packet I gave legislators was my list of questions and statements for their contemplation. I encourage all of you to scan through at least some of the WASL bills and voice your opinions to your representatives either by calling the hotline (1.800.562.6000), phoning legislators personally, or emailing http://apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Default.aspx .

I believe the following are good guiding questions and statements as legislators make important decisions about our children’s education and the future of our state.

Questions for Contemplation as Student Testing in Washington State is Revised and Improved

February 4, 2009

  • Considering the economic landscape: Have Business Roundtable CEOs held themselves to the same high standards they expect from our students in public school?

  • Is it tests or quality teaching that improves student learning?

  • Have 12-14 years of WASL obsession improved our schools or the lives of our students?

  • Will obsession with any other test or assessment system improve our schools in the future?

  • How much time should Washington leaders spend arguing over testing issues instead of making decisions that will provide improved learning opportunities to at-risk and all other students?

  • Our children today deserve better than what we have given our children who have grown up through the WASL guinea pig years.

    Thank you for your time and thoughtfulness as you make important decisions about the lives of our children and families and the future of our state.

    Received this evening from Dr. Don Orlich

    At least some of us in the Test Resistance manage to have lives beyond testing. Our good Dr. Orlich proves this with a brand new book. Take a look-- here--and smile. I ordered my very own signed copy from “the man.”

    In closing, in case you think you’re aloneâ€Â¦

    A few weeks ago, I received an invitation through one of my new contacts in the Los Angeles Teachers’ Association. It was to a tri-national conference on testing, in Mexico City. I wished I could go, but decided I would send a few buttons for the LA teacher to share at the conference, instead.

    Last week, I received a phone call and email from a Korean television network. They were looking for parents to interview, in the San Francisco area, who had opted their children out of state testing. I gave them contact information for teachers in Oakland who fought the state and won the right to inform parents of opt out provisions.

    Our work is far from finished. Please support PEN’s efforts: to help students, parents, and teachers; and to improve public schools in Washington State. Your small, large, or ongoing contribution will be put to good use in our fight for educational sanity and justice.


    Juanita Doyon, Director

    Parent Empowerment Network

    Parent Empowerment Network is a nonprofit, public charity continuing to fight the good fight thanks to tax deductible contributions from good people like you. Please consider becoming a member or making a contribution today. http://www.mothersagainstwasl.org/member.html

    Parent Empowerment Network

    PO Box 494

    Spanaway, WA 98387

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