Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PEN Update

Please Help Today-- Urgent!
Please share this update with family and friends.

Starting the way I usually finish: A plea for each of you to make a contribution to PEN, today. I know that financial times are hard. If I had no other signs to go by, I could judge by the lack of contributions that have been made to PEN in recent months. Yet, PEN’s important work continues. Information on how to contribute is at the end of this message. Please read on to understand why your contribution of any size ($5, $10, $25, $50, $100…) is vital.

ATTENTION SPOKANE Friends and Members please don’t miss the event announcement, below. I look forward to meeting you in person, this Wednesday.


Thanks to the election of a new state superintendent, it is a near certainty that we have seen our last “WASL” season. However, we are far from seeing our last high-stakes standardized test or ending the repercussions of 16 years of WASL-based school reform. In the last few weeks, I have heard from several parents of seniors who missed passing WASL and the alternative assessments by a few points, only to be told they will not receive a diploma and cannot take part in graduation ceremonies. State Superintendent Randy Dorn has made it clear to us that he supports a graduation test. PEN must continue to monitor the development and implementation of new tests, provide information regarding the harmful impact of high-stakes testing, and work to stop the use of a single test score to award or deny a high school diploma.

PEN keeps the pressure on policymakers. Your support is needed today!

I have also heard from parents of students who are being harassed by principals and district administrators because they have opted out of WASL or have chosen to protest on the test itself. The high-stakes attitudes of school administrators will not change until the test scores of students are not used to label schools, no matter what test is used. PEN must continue to inform policy-makers of the harmful impact of tests in all grades for the purpose of class placement, school accountability, etc… Below, I have pasted a letter PEN sent to Superintendent Dorn last month.

PEN supports and assists parents and teachers. Your support is needed today!


Thanks to Bill Benson at KIRO TV for doing an important investigation and report on WASL. And thanks to those of you who contacted Bill to share your experiences. I received the following email from Mr. Benson on Friday. If you aren’t in the Seattle TV service area, please visit the to view the story, once it airs at the times stated in the email.


Thanks so much for your help on our WASL story. We’ve put together a two part series that’s been four months in the making and involves an analysis of every district in the state. The promos will be running this weekend and the stories will air on Monday May 11th at 11pm, and on Wednesday May 13th at 6pm. There will also be a place on our website where the public can take a look at WASL anomalies in any district they choose.
Again thanks for your assistance and let me know what you think.

Bill Benson
Investigative Producer

(Please thank KIRO and let them know how important stories like this are to our families and, especially, our children.)

PEN helps inform the public. Your support is needed today!


PEN’s Special Education consultant Nancy Vernon and I just returned from a national forum in Alexandria, VA, sponsored by the National Education Association and FairTest ( I have been the Washington coordinator for FairTest’s grassroots internet organization, the Assessment Reform Network, since 2000. The forum was made up of 150 invitees from the 50 states. U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan addressed the group on Thursday afternoon and took questions following his remarks. He also left his senior advisor to take further questions and suggestions. Our own Nancy Vernon asked the only question the senior advisor could not answer, when she asked what the Obama administration is going to do to make sure children who are deaf-blind (as her son is) are included in the accountability plan. She told him that even the test that is designed for the 2% of children with severe disabilities is not an appropriate assessment of her son’s abilities. When the answer was, “We don’t know,” Nancy offered to help them figure it out. The senior advisor eagerly asked for Nancy’s contact information, which is now in his wallet.

The goal of the forum was to brainstorm recommendations for the reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and its testing requirements. The most important reasons for our attendance at this forum were:

· Our ability to speak freely about needed changes.

· The opportunity to network with educators from throughout the nation who are struggling with testing issues, just as we are.

Even in this forum of somewhat likeminded individuals, most of whom do not believe in the high-stakes use of testing taking place today, the suggested reforms were often limited to the revision of standardized tests and the improved reporting of student data. Frustrated by the questions to be answered in one session, I’m afraid I could not contain myself and suggested that if this group could not figure out how to make suggestions that did not center on tests and test scores, there is no hope! I suggested band concerts, history days, and math nights as excellent ways to prove the quality of a public school to the public. I also said “My child’s test scores are nobody’s business!” Many at the forum agreed with the PEN viewpoint.

Thank you to FairTest and NEA for sponsoring this important forum. It is my hope and the hope of the PEN board and consultants that a similar forum can be held in Washington to look at the pros and (especially) the cons of high school exit exams.

PEN has an independent voice to add to the national discussion taking place. Working with national allies is vital but requires resources. Your support is needed today!


If you are in or near Spokane, I hope you will come to a PEN/Mothers Against WASL get together this coming Wednesday, May 13, at 6:30 pm. We will meet at Old Country Buffet, Franklin Park Mall, 5504 N Division St, Spokane.

PEN will have an information booth at the Washington Education Association (WEA) Representative Assembly, May 14-16. I will be in town from Wednesday through Saturday afternoon, so if you are in the area, cannot make it to Old Country Buffet, but would like to get together, please email or call me (253-973-1593) and we can try to figure out another time and place to meet. The WEA event is at the convention center.

PEN networks with teachers and parents, statewide. Your support is needed today!

The events and activities above involve expenses that need to be paid-- hotel, airfare, printed materials, etc… My charge card bill is adding up, yet I cannot stop the work I know is so vital to our children. If you believe the work of PEN is worthwhile, your contribution is needed today! Please, help!
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.
Parent Empowerment Network
PO Box 494
Spanaway, WA 98387


April 17, 2009

Dear Randy,

As we finish up the first week of what should be the last WASL season, I must tell you I am disturbed by the overt attitude of coercion and intimidation that remains in our school districts, residue, no doubt, of 12 years of the Bergeson administration.

As you may or may not know, one very important service Parent Empowerment Network provides to parents and students is support for their decision to opt out of state level testing (currently the WASL).
One good decision that Dr. Bergeson made, in response to media coverage of early WASL opt outs and protests, was to accept the right of parents to opt out of state-level testing and honor this right by developing a written policy. This policy must be maintained regardless of the format of future state testing, and it must be disseminated more readily to districts and schools rather than being hidden on page 19 of the Assessment Coordinator’s Manual. The individual needs of students and families must be honored above the data collection desires of the state or federal government.

Over the past several years, PEN has developed materials to streamline the opt out process and inform parents and their districts of current state policy. These materials include an opt out form, alternative activities form, and letter to district and school officials asking that they honor the parental decision to opt their child out of testing without undue attempts to coerce participation. I have attached the letter to districts for your information.

This year, with upcoming changes in the testing, PEN members anticipated a more relaxed acceptance of parental opt out than has been our experience in the past. However, several cases in the past week attest to a lack of change from the Bergeson administration milieu. I will share one that is particularly blatant, in hopes of impressing on you just how important it is that we work together to change the status quo. (I believe you are already aware of the opt out incident involving the suspension of two Seattle teachers last month.)

Yesterday, I received a call from a father who happens to be in my own Bethel School District. He asked if I could help with a situation he and his wife were dealing with regarding their third grade son. They had decided to opt their son out of the WASL and take him to Sylvan Learning Center during testing time. His wife had emailed the school and had then spoken with the principal. The principal told of loss of school funding because the third grader was not taking the WASL and also told the mother that “we might have to deal with this in court,” referring to the absence of the eight-year-old during testing time.

Ironically, the family involved is a military family. I am not sure whether the dad has served in Iraq to secure freedom and democracy for citizens of that country, but our schools in Washington State are certainly not setting an example of freedom and democracy for our young citizens or their parents.

Since I had not been in contact with the parents previously, I emailed PEN’s opt out packet and some of the state policy wording for their use. I also called the Bethel assessment coordinator and superintendent. Shortly thereafter, the mother received an email from the principal, who claimed she had been “rushed” during their earlier talk. She now offered appropriate alternative activities for the third grader, told the mother that the district assessment person would be phoning her and asked that she come into the school and sign an opt out form. She also said that the absences would be excused, if the mother would write a note to the attendance office telling of the Sylvan attendance, if that was still the family’s choice.

This more reasonable response should not have required the intervention of an independent nonprofit organization. Take my word, this was not an isolated incident; I could go on about harassment of 8th graders and early morning calls to homeschooled 11th graders telling their parents they must get them to school to take the test “right now!”

Unfortunately, your early announcement that the WASL would be replaced was not enough to change the prevailing high-stakes testing mania that exists in our schools and districts as a result of years of state and federal mandates. Much more must be done to ensure that a change from the WASL carries with it a change in attitude on the part of school administrators toward students, parents, and teachers. The atmosphere of academic bullying and intimidation will not be quick or easy to change and can only be changed through ample communication from your office. You must live up to your campaign promises and send the message to administrators that respect for students, parents and teachers is the new order of the day. Further, your office must boldly model respect for the individual needs of students, the rights of parents and the professionalism of teachers.

In closing, I am sure by now you have received your invitation from the NEA and FairTest to attend their Transforming Assessment and Accountability Systems Forum in Alexandria, VA, May 7th and 8th. I hope you are planning to attend this important event that will bring together leaders in the education assessment reform community from throughout the nation. As Washington’s assessment system is transformed and, hopefully, much improved, it is vital that all options are explored, including the option to replace the exit exam with a more appropriate measure of graduation readiness. I can think of no better place for you to be on May 7th and 8th than with a group of people who have been working through assessment issues for the past decades, through many reforms du jour, including No Child Left Behind. If you find it impossible to attend, Nancy Vernon and I will be happy to gather printed materials and present you with an overview of the sessions but we would far prefer that you experience the event first hand.

It is our hope that your office will sponsor a similar consortium of Washington State education leaders to hear and discuss presentations from a variety of assessment experts with a variety of opinions. I am sure Monty Neill of FairTest and national testing expert Gerald Bracey, who now resides in Port Townsend, would be happy to take part in such an event. This would fulfill your campaign promise to Raul and me that you would look at the issue of exit testing in depth and consider current data regarding its success or failure in other states.



1 comment:

Jesmi said...

I run into the computer problem with students when I teach comics here in CT. I stress traditional artistic values that seem to contradict what students are learning in their schools. I had one student who was in his first year of college who had absolutely no anatomical study wanting to do comics. He also didn’t seem to feel there was a need to carry a sketchbook as the computer can do it all. These are different times and though I make my living using a computer (and use it well) I find that my traditional skills are always in use.