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Some homeschoolers balk at WASLs

While hundreds of fourth, seventh and tenth grade students are taking the WASL this week, some homeschooling parents won’t let their kids participate in the state standardized test and question its usefulness.

Most home schooled children on North Whidbey still get their education independent of public schools, but a group of 104 students participate in the school district’s homeschooling program, called HomeConnection. By being in a school district program, many decide take the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning), but others decline to go along.

Beginning with the 10th grade class of 2008, students must pass the WASL to graduate from high school in Washington.

Sherry Fakkema, principal of HomeConnection, said the staff strongly encourages students to take the test but not all parents agree.

She said the WASL is a good way to gauge their child’s performance.

“As their child’s primary teacher, they need to see where they are,” Fakkema said adding the WASL is just one part of a students ongoing assessment. WASL results help when they meet with school advisors throughout the year.

When the test was administered last year, the HomeConnection participation rate varied between the grade levels. All four of the fourth graders took the test last year while two out of 10 fifth graders took the science WASL. Five of 12 seventh graders took the WASL while four of eight sophomores took the WASL.

Performance of Oak Harbor HomeConnection students on the WASL varies by grade level. Between 25 percent and 75 percent of the fourth graders passed the various sections of the WASL, for example.

Fakkema didn’t have any numbers available about this year’s participation yet, but said attendance seemed to be good.

There are a variety of reasons parents have for not letting their kids participate.

Fakkema said some families don’t want to give up the time for a test that is administered over a two-week period. She said parents would rather use the time for class instruction.

Some parents say they also want their children to prepare for college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT rather than spending so much time on the WASL.

While passing the sophomore WASL becomes a graduation requirement for the current freshman class, families still may not want their kids to participate in the WASL.

“They may not have the goal of graduating from the Oak Harbor School District,” Fakkema said.

Some parents are concerned about the test’s effects on the classroom environment.

“The thing that concerns me is that because it’s such a challenging test, teachers have to teach to the test,” said Lorena Welch, who has six children in HomeConnection. She has a daughter who took the test last year, so she has experience with it, saying, “I think it takes a lot of freedom away from teachers.”

Welch said the WASL isn’t a prerequisite for admission into any college and there are other tests available that show student progress. She would prefer that her children take the widely used Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Parent Penny Adrukat said she is concerned the WASL test won’t help students who benefit from a more hands-on learning environment.

She thinks the WASL is also biased toward female students and it shouldn’t be used for “political purposes.”

Like Welch, Adrukat believes the ITBS is a more proven assessment test.

Lynn Vagt, who also has several kids going through the HomeConnection program, concurs that the Iowa test is better than the WASL.

“The WASL tells me less about my children’s achievement than the Iowa test,” Vagt said. She has her children opt out of the WASL testing.

Fakkema said parents like the ITBS because it’s shorter, succinct and has been used for years. She added parents, like teachers, will have to learn how to use the WASL to evaluate their child’s performance.

Vagt said she’s concerned especially for her older children whose WASL scores may appear on their transcripts. She questioned how effective the WASL is considering the standards were recently changed and that students have numerous opportunities to retake and pass the standardized test.

She understands the pressure schools are under to have every student pass the test. However she said improving the school system could come another way.

“Maybe we should look at how they educate kids and do it better,” Vagt said.

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