Politics & Government

Legislature pushes WASL requirement to Class of 2013

The Legislature voted Sunday to delay the requirement that students pass the math and science portions of Washington's high-stakes achievement test in order to graduate from high school.

The bill would delay the math and science requirement to no later than the Class of 2013.

The House passed the measure 56-41, and the Senate 30-18. It now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Gregoire's policy director, Marty Brown, said the governor would accept the delay to 2013, but would have to examine the rest of the measure before deciding whether to sign it all or veto sections, as state law allows.

"I think she was just glad that they're done; it was finally on paper," Brown said, adding that a lot of the measure "is sort of new stuff."

As state law stands, students in the class of 2008 would be the first group required to pass the math, writing and reading sections of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in order to graduate. Passing the science section was to become an additional graduation requirement in 2010.

The House and Senate compromise bill would keep the reading and writing WASL as a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2008. Students who do not pass the math test, but meet other graduation requirements and keep taking math courses, would be able to graduate.

The measure allows the ACT, SAT and certain Advanced Placement exams to be used as alternatives if a student does not pass the reading or writing sections.

"The whole goal of this is to provide pathways for students to demonstrate that they have the skills to graduate, that they've met the standards," said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Republicans argued that the measure is not fair to minority and low income students, because some of them do not take those alternative assessment tests.

"We're going to have a system where rich kids can opt out," said Rep. Glen Anderson, R-Fall City.

The compromise language came about after some last-minute negotiations.

"It's an 11th-hour compromise," said Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island. "The vision isn't clear; it's muddled.

"The governor can fix some of it, but that's not her job. That's our job. We punted again on education."

The bill orders the State Board of Education to examine and make recommendations to change the WASL. It specifically directs the board to study whether end-of-course tests would be better than the WASL is assessing student achievement in math and science.

The measure also allows more opportunities to appeal for students who do not pass the reading and writing sections of the exam.

Brown said that section of the bill raised an immediate alarm, because it is not clear what students would have to show in order to appeal successfully.

Another last-minute measure that passed both chambers would allow students to participate in graduation ceremonies if they do not pass the reading and writing sections of the WASL. Students would receive a certificate, but not a diploma, and would have to develop a 5th-year plan to eventually pass the WASL exams.

"With this legislation we head down the path of offering more opportunity for all students, " said Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines.

Brown said Gregoire "does not like that concept," but would not go so far as to say she'd veto it.