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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WASL policy change poses tough questions

Inspired by a recent policy change that gives parents access to their children’s WASL tests, Shelly Anderson mailed her request to Spokane Public Schools and learned the district couldn’t help her.

Districts are being told to refer requests to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, even though it’s unclear exactly how to do that. Eventually, the state will develop an Internet form of some kind.

State education officials are scrambling to comply with the policy change.

Anderson, who’s been a vocal opponent of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, said she can’t believe the state was caught by surprise.

“Parents have been requesting the test all along,” Anderson said. “This isn’t something that just caught them off-guard.”

Recently, the OSPI said it had improperly kept parents from viewing the test. The test had been carefully guarded for years to maintain the integrity of questions that were sometimes reused.

The policy change came after a Seattle parent had tried to gain access to her son’s WASL test for years and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Now the tests are considered student records, and parents will be allowed to see their child’s actual test booklet and answer sheet.

OSPI spokeswoman Kim Schmanke said state officials are researching the best ways to give parents access to their children’s tests. School districts will likely be asked to take a role so parents don’t have to travel across the state to view the test booklet, Schmanke said.

“We’re trying to figure out other examples of what has been done elsewhere,” Schmanke said. “We’re trying to find a balance between being open with the parents and protecting the tests from being exposed.”

Schmanke added that there is no deadline for parents to make their requests.

Last week, statewide groups Mothers Against WASL and Parent Empowerment Network sent a letter to the state attorney general’s office asking that the state cease the practice of destroying year-old WASL booklets, which is done every summer.

“If these tests are destroyed, parents and students will be denied the right to determine whether WASL tests have been accurately scored,” wrote Juanita Doyon, West Side director of Parent Empowerment Network.

The attorney general’s office responded with a note that said the OSPI has no plans to destroy 2004 tests before parents have a reasonable opportunity to review them, said Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for the attorney general.

What might be a bigger question is what impact the policy change will have on the test, said Maurine Ramos, president of the Spokane Education Association, the teachers union.

As a long-running practice, “if a teacher talks about items on the test, they can lose their license,” Ramos said.

She wonders how the greater public exposure to the test will affect its content.

There are numerous questions that need to be answered, she said. For instance, can a teacher with children who took the WASL look at the test? Ramos said teachers are instructed not to look at the test questions, even while administering the test. Will the expense of developing test questions increase? How will the information be protected?

Those questions are what the state is wrestling with now.

Ramos is no fan of high-stakes tests. Next year’s sophomores will be the first class in Washington required to pass the WASL to graduate.

“I believe the OSPI has ruled on something that no one understands what the ramifications of this will be,” Ramos said. “Who knows what’s going to shake out of this?”