Politics & Government

Dorn's math-science plans get mixed reception

SEATTLE - State schools chief Randy Dorn is taking a more proactive role during this year's legislative session, proposing initiatives and making it clear that both he and the governor are elected by the people and don't agree on every issue.

This year, Dorn has spoken out on two issues where he and Gov. Chris Gregoire don’t see eye-to-eye: the state’s application for federal dollars through the Race to the Top competition and a delay in math and science graduation requirements.

His proposal to delay Washington state’s graduation requirements got a mixed review Tuesday at a hearing in the House Education Committee.

Dorn says the measure is not really a delay in the math and science requirements; it’s more of a delay in changing the rules for high school graduation.

Instead of moving toward end-of-course exams for algebra and math during the next year, Dorn’s proposal would delay the switch until the tests can be given the same year students take those classes. It would change the math test requirement from 2012 to 2014 and delay science from 2013 to 2017.

“Do kids need more math and science? The answer is ‘Yes,’” Dorn told the committee. “This is an alignment issue and a fairness issue. Do we lower our standards? I don’t think so.”

But one part of House Bill 2915, sponsored by committee chairman Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, does appear to lower the standards for statewide assessments in science and math.

It would give a passing grade to students who have a basic understanding instead of the current requirement, which is for students to be proficient to pass the comprehensive high school math and science tests.

For those familiar with the WASL, the bill would drop the science and math passing level from a score of three to a score of two. In spring 2009, only 38.6 percent of high school 10th-graders scored at a proficient level on the science WASL, and more than 45 percent of 10th-graders met the standard in math. Adding those who scored a two on the WASL – the basic level – would boost the 10th-grade passage rate to 55.3 percent in science and about 66 percent in math.

Gregoire and the State Board of Education both oppose delaying the graduation requirements again; the statewide math test was originally supposed to count toward graduation in 2008. Those testifying against the measure on Tuesday included the State Board of Education, the League of Education Voters, the Partnership for Learning, and Tabor 100, an association of minority business people.

Caroline King, policy manager for the Partnership for Learning, testified that math achievement scores have gone down every year since the state started delaying graduation requirements.