Legislators caved on WASL

Apparently the Legislature didn't mean it when it raised academic expectations in our public school system. Apparently lawmakers had their fingers crossed when they said they were going to set high academic standards for every student then hold them to that standard. Apparently it's OK to graduate high school students who cannot balance a checkbook or count back change.

Those are the messages lawmakers are sending to students in this state by backing off graduation requirements.

As state law stands today, 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. But lawmakers are bowing to pressure and backing away from that expectation.

The state House and Senate have both passed measures to delay requirements that students pass the math and science portions of WASL to graduate. The Senate's version would delay the requirement to pass the math WASL for two years, with a delay until 2011 for the science WASL. The House bill proposes a delay of five years for math and four years for science.

The WASL was put into place in 1993 as part of an ambitious education reform measure aimed at pushing each student to academic success. Lawmakers have had 14 years to set the standards, develop the test and educate parents and students of the need to pass the WASL in order to graduate.

Fourteen years, and lawmakers still haven't gotten it right. What makes them think they'll succeed in another two years or five years or 20 years for that matter?

We predicted as the class of 2008 approached graduation that pressure would build to abandon the WASL. We knew that parents whose sons and daughters had failed to pass the WASL would raise a ruckus, and we expected opposition from teachers who don't want to be judged on the success or failure of their students. But we didn't think Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, Gov. Chris Gregoire and lawmakers would cave so quickly and so easily. By their actions they have made a mockery of the past

14 years of education reform in this state.

"There's going to be the perception by some that we have caved to political pressure," said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Carrolls.

Darn right that perception exists, because that's precisely what has happened.

Both the House and Senate bills to revamp WASL expectations would require students who do not pass the math portion to take additional classes to catch up. That's a good plan, as are alternative certification, retests, revised scoring, revamped tests, tutoring and other concessions made over the past 14 years to increase the number of students passing the WASL.

But what are younger students who take the WASL each year supposed to think, now that lawmakers and state leaders are backpedaling? How much incentive will elementary and middle school students have to pass, knowing that future decision makers could spare them from the WASL requirement, too?

Either this state believes in setting standards and sticking to them or it doesn't. Lawmakers, Bergeson and Gregoire are going in the wrong direction by caving to pressure and delaying the WASL requirement.