Friday, November 21, 2008

Opt Out of Math, Science WASLs

Over 23 months of research, I’ve spoken with administrators, board members, parents, teachers, principals, math professors, math advocates, businesspeople and a few students. I don’t consider myself to be an expert, but I’m knowledgeable enough now to converse somewhat intelligently about the problems and our options.

I’m asking Washington parents to opt out of the math and science WASLs.
  1. Administrators acknowledge that the WASL is the “floor” of expectations. Why waste time, money and resources testing for the floor?
  2. The math WASL is based on standards that are no longer in force. The science standards are being revised right now. Just 40-60% of students typically pass the math WASL. Few students pass the science WASL. Students don't have to pass the math or science WASLs in order to graduate.
  3. The 10th-grade math WASL is being eliminated and replaced by end-of-course tests. The new superintendent has said his goal is to "replace the WASL with a simpler, fairer test."
  4. The math and science WASLs are inadequate indicators of what students have learned. They also don’t show us what isn't being taught (such as algebra, for just one glaring example). No specific feedback about those tests goes back to students or parents.

I ask you: What is the point? Students are spending days, hours and months practicing for tests that aren’t based on the standards, that aren’t accurate measures of what they need to know, and that are likely on their way out.

Just say no. If you’re in Spokane, you can also say no to the SASL (Spokane’s WASLette). Say no to this lame-duck testing process. Say no, say no. Keep your children home those days and teach them there. Or, send them to school with some work you’ve given them. You have the right to say no.

When you opt out, you might be advised that your child’s WASLs will be counted as zeros for the school. You might be told that not taking the WASLs can affect scores and funding for the school, district or state. You might be told that the teacher or principal will be affected by your decision. I say, “Express your sympathy and continue to say no.” The system is broken. What opting out does is acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Right now, you can test your children with something that will give you an idea of the skills they’re missing. If you do this, I suspect you will be shocked. For mathematics, Singapore Math (my personal preference) and Saxon Math are free assessments. Of the assessments listed below, I have personal experience with Singapore Math, Saxon Math and Sylvan Learning.

Saying no to the WASL won’t fix the problems, but it will send a message to the education establishment. Parents in Washington have already tried to send messages – by phone, by letter, by email, and by voting with their feet. Much of the establishment seems to think parents don’t know what they’re talking about. See "Education Establishment Rebuffs Concerns" for more on that.

The Nov. 4 election was just another example of voter preferences being ignored. Before the election, Washington State Superintendent Terry Bergeson was aware that the WASL is a contentious issue. She knew Randy Dorn was campaigning on a platform of WASL opposition. On Nov. 4, voters selected Randy Dorn as the next superintendent of public instruction. On Nov. 5, I received an email from the Public Records Office at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) that answered questions I’d been asking since September. The Nov. 5 email confirmed that new contracts had been signed for several more years of the WASL and alternate tests. What will Randy Dorn be able to do about these contracts?

It must be said that I haven’t seen the contracts. They run thousands of pages, and it would cost me hundreds of dollars to have them copied. A Public Records person has agreed to send copies to me on a CD at a cost of $20.

It must also be said that I’m not a lawyer. In thousands of pages of legalese, what can I say about how binding they’ll be? According to the Nov. 5 email, however, the contracts are done and they total $164.5 million. Here’s the breakdown:

$ 374,861 to Assessment and Evaluation Services for the period 8/1/2008 to 12/31/2010. The scope of work includes coordination of quality control work efforts.
$131,193,205 to Data Recognition Corporation for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes testing operations, scoring and reporting, translations, teacher development.
$ 8,388,699 to Educational Service District 113 for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Collection of Evidence (alternative to the WASL).
$ 18,275,563 to Educational Testing Service for the period 7/21/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes assisting with work efforts associated with item and test development, and coordination of professional development.
$ 6,592,350 to Measured Progress for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Washington Alternate Assessment System Portfolio.

I’ve looked for this information on the OSPI Web site. I’ve waited for it to be disseminated in the Washington media. It wasn't in Terry Bergeson's Nov. 21 State of Education address. I found out about the contracts because I gave OSPI a formal request for public information.

Essentially, OSPI signed away $164.5 million in taxpayer money on contracts the public has repeatedly said it doesn’t want. This might have been hubris. They might have felt locked into doing it. Or, it might have been a final, poisonous pill. Regardless, the contracts are signed. The money is committed. Unless the contracts can be broken, say goodbye to that money, folks.

I’m asking you to say no to the madness. When it comes time for your child to take these lame-duck tests, refuse to participate. You are allowed to say no. Your vote at the ballot might not be respected and your money might be spent on tests that no one has to pass, but you can still vote with your feet. We get to do that in America, and by golly, we should.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (November, 2008). "Opt out of the WASL." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Links to sample opt-out letters:

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