The Stress Test

Enlightened and Alarmed

I want to thank Seattle Weekly and Nina Shapiro for her article about the Washington Assessment of Student Learning ["The Stress Test," Nov. 23]. As a parent about to get involved with the public school system for the first time, I appreciate being educated about the pros and cons and ongoing concerns and actions involving the WASL and its ramifications. I was both enlightened and alarmed.

Denise Wechsler


A 'WASL Failure' Succeeds

Partnership for Learning has invested a great deal of effort and money to promote the WASL ["The Stress Test," Nov. 23]. Firsthand experience tells me that they are misleading the public by trying to soft-sell this subjective and unfair test. Why don't they talk about all the kids who won't pass this year? Why don't they tell parents about the frustration, anxiety, and depression kids experience due to this test? Students who perform poorly will be labeled "WASL failures," and thus discouraged, many will simply give up. How many students will be denied the opportunity to graduate and the chance to pursue a college education because of how they perform on the WASL?

My oldest son was a "WASL failure," yet he graduated. Had he been in the class of 2008, he would have been refused the right to graduate. He failed the reading and math sections. Does this mean he can neither read nor do math? No. He has been reading at college level for years. He did well in high-school math. Where is he now? He's in college earning a 4.0 grade point average.

My youngest child isn't as fortunate—he's in the class of 2008. May God help him, because it appears that the Partnership for Learning and state Superintendent Terry Bergeson will show him no mercy.

Berta Phillips


Learning Comes First

I am principal at Sanislo Elementary School in Seattle. The WASL is a touchy subject, as Nina Shapiro documented in her article ["The Stress Test," Nov. 23]. Its accountability and public nature have driven some school administrators to do pretty strange things.

Shapiro talked to teachers, parents, and students, but I would urge her to spend time in some classrooms to see and feel the instruction taking place. I believe her opinion of the narrowing effect of the WASL may change. I have been lucky enough to visit many schools and classrooms. What I have found is teachers and students working together in fun and exciting ways to learn. I have seen teachers working with small groups of kids at their reading level, improving their skill and confidence. I have seen lessons with math, reading, writing, history, and social studies all integrated into lessons where kids are making movies, writing newspaper articles, and creating art, all towards a common goal: the standards. In these classrooms, the teachers are not placing the WASL as their guide, rather the students and their progress and success.

Schools with good WASL scores, from rich and poor neighborhoods, are generally the ones with great teachers that know their craft and work together to make student learning rigorous and relevant.

Eric Nelson


Educational Triage

Bravo to Nina Shapiro for the in-depth analysis of the WASL ["The Stress Test," Nov. 23]! I know of no other newspaper in the state that has dared to fully expose this damnable test for the harm it is causing our children, parents, teachers, and schools.

As a retired employee of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction who directed programs for students historically "left behind," I witnessed the educational triage that began to take place from the state level on down to our schools once the current state superintendent assumed power over the direction of state testing. Replicating Army field hospital procedure, schools were implicitly and explicitly directed to "save" those most apt to pass the test, while students whose academic profiles were too far below the bar were to receive delayed treatment. This is why the achievement gap between majority/minority students has widened to its present alarming and tragic levels. James Kelly's statement, "The bar has been raised. Get over it," exemplifies the callous attitude toward and betrayal of our students by the ruling educrats.

Raul de la Rosa


We Need Tests

Nina Shapiro's article on the WASL paints a depressing picture of education reform in Washington ["The Stress Test," Nov. 23]. I agree that education should be much more than learning how to take standardized tests. But a hard test is an objective measure of what students are learning and what institutions are teaching. I cannot think of an advanced education that doesn't culminate in a test of proficiency. Would you hire a lawyer or doctor who hadn't passed their certifying exams? Most of these tests are stressful, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The WASL is doing its job. It has identified a crisis in both the individual performance of students and the institutions responsible for their education (starting with their parents). Faulting the WASL is like shooting the messenger of bad news. The fact that schools are now "teaching the test" is a sure sign that the old curriculum was failing to generate proficient students.

In the end, we can redefine success to maintain the status quo or we can get serious about lifting our kids over the bar.

David Finlayson


Cultivate Curiosity

I taught school in Seattle my entire career ["The Stress Test," Nov. 23]. A good many of my friends are former students—some highly successful by any standard, others less so. What many people fail to understand is that the key to great minds and a great education is teaching kids how to think and creating an environment that makes them curious enough to become lifelong learners. This is a better measure of education than a test.

Kent Kammerer


Long-Hair Wisdom

In Knute Berger's lavish admiration for the alcoholic, flag-waving redneck Merle Haggard, he somehow found it necessary to attack the Youngbloods' lyrics and the "utopianism of . . . long-hairs of that era" [Mossback, "Redneck Renegade," Nov. 23]. Let's see: "Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now." Utopian? I call it words to live by.

Phil Quigley


Sony Bytes

I read "Reality Really Bytes" [Gift Guide 1: Tech & Toys, Nov. 23], which outlines some of the massively multiplayer online role-playing games available. I would like to comment on one title Roger Downey mentioned, which I play: Star Wars Galaxies. Recently, changes were implemented that essentially negate most of the original game. While many players are upset with this, even more of us are disgusted with Sony Online Entertainment's complete lack of respect for longtime paying customers.

The changes were announced right after a new add-on for the game went on sale. Because these changes essentially made much of what was advertised in the add-on obsolete, a large number of players cried foul. To that end, SOE offered refunds for the expansion. Sadly, these new enhancements seem rushed. The game is riddled with bugs. Those of us who are still subscribers are essentially paying to play a broken game. While there are numerous groups of players outraged by the actions of SOE, one group in particular has been hit very hard—players with disabilities. The recent changes have made it all but impossible for many people to control their characters or interact with other players.

If you are looking to purchase a game for yourself or a family member, buyers beware. If, as a paying customer, you actually expect to be treated like one, take your time in considering any game from Sony Online Entertainment.

Brent Neste

Red Wing, MN

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