Politics & Government

Officials work toward revamped tests

Don't get too attached to the new state tests that replaced the WASL last year. A revamped version may be ready for the 2014-15 school year.

Washington state education officials will help lead a consortium of 31 states that were awarded a four-year, $160 million grant Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The money will fund efforts to develop new state tests that align with the set of national academic benchmarks known as Common Core standards.

The goal is to create an online test for students that would be used in all 31 states and that would measure how well students line up against the national standards.

The Education Department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education mentioned the $160 million grant Thursday while she was in Pierce County visiting schools in Tacoma and Lakewood.

In a discussion with teachers at Clover Park High School, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana also urged Washington to hold fast to its philosophy of keeping learning standards high.

And she talked about congressional efforts to reauthorize the federal law that created the accountability system known as No Child Left Behind. It measures school and school district progress based on test scores, graduation rates and other factors.

Meléndez de Santa Ana said the law as it stands contains “too many sanctions, and not a lot of flexibility.”

She said the Obama administration’s proposal for reauthorization would “give credit” to schools that are moving forward – even if they’re not hitting every target set for them. Currently, schools are labeled as failing if they miss even one of dozens of targets.

For example, only 19 of 61 schools and alternative programs in Tacoma met all their targets during the 2009-10 school year, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the Clover Park School District, 13 of 28 schools met all their goals under the federal law.

“We want to reward schools that are showing growth,” Meléndez de Santa Ana said.

Earlier in the day, she toured Tacoma’s Lincoln Center program at Lincoln High School. It was the first day of school for Tacoma students.

The school-within-a-school, now in its third year, enrolls about 400 students who attend school four days a week until 5 p.m., as well as two Saturdays a month. A summer school runs for several weeks each year.

Lincoln Center aims to prepare students at the high-poverty school for college.

In one sophomore English classroom Meléndez de Santa Ana visited, she asked how many students planned to attend college. All 23 students raised their hands.

“Thank you for giving me a beautiful moment,” she told them.

Administrators at Lincoln want to expand Lincoln Center’s college-preparatory work to the rest of Lincoln High School. Last month, they submitted a $1.9 million grant application to the U.S. Department of Education to fund the project.

The school district could learn this month whether the grant will be awarded to Lincoln.