Testing Paranoia

Hypervigilance for WASL cheating.

Last week, Debra Pearson's seventh-grade son, Alex, got his results for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). "Of course, he failed," says the Spokane mom. She never expected anything else. Alex has learning disabilities that render the WASL a nearly impossible test for him. So the test is usually a nonevent. "The WASL does not tell me enough about my child," Pearson says.

All the stranger, therefore, that Pearson, a kindergarten teacher for 19 years, is facing an allegation that she used her position to obtain a test question and prep her child. The Spokane School District, which failed to find evidence for disciplining Pearson, nevertheless passed the case up to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which is investigating.

What makes the case, first reported by the Spokane Spokesman-Review, even more bizarre is that Pearson almost certainly could not have had access to the WASL. "Only those teachers who are administering the test have access," acknowledges Greg Hall, the OSPI assistant superintendent in charge of the WASL. The test is not given in kindergarten. And Hall says that even teachers administering the test only receive it the day that they are to do so, under tight security that requires each person touching the test booklet to sign off.

"This is how ridiculous things have gotten with the WASL," says Juanita Doyon of Spanaway, the founder of a statewide group called Mothers Against WASL. "Things have gotten out of control in the name of test security." The hypervigilance of school officials reminds her of another WASL case, in which an Aberdeen fourth-grader was suspended from school for failing to fill out a test question.

According to district documents, the saga began when a teacher administering the test to Alex observed that he had completed one writing question unusually quickly. According to that teacher, Alex said his mother had told him what the question would be and had gone over what he could write.

Pearson maintains that the teacher and, later, an assistant principal fed Alex leading questions during four interrogations. She says what really happened is that Alex learned the test question from a friend at another school, who had taken that section of the WASL three days earlier. He told his mom he knew the question. Although he did not say what the question was, according to Pearson, he later asked for ideas on its topic: things to tell someone else about Spokane.

Staci Vesneske, the district's executive director of human resources, says the district could not verify Pearson's version of events because she wouldn't name the other student. Failure to turn the kid in leaves Pearson in continued limbo.

nshapiro@seattleweekly.com

 
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