Editorials

Change needed in school testing rule

About 2,000 Washington high school seniors will fail to graduate this year despite many having enough credits to walk on the commencement dais with classmates. The sticking point is that they didn’t pass an end-of-course test for biology in 10th grade, and they failed to show they met the state academic standard through an alternative approach that evaluates classroom work samples.

Legislation sponsored by Democratic Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater and Republican Rep. David Taylor of Moxee would end the test requirement on biology, which is a graduation requirement for the first time this year. Their proposal saves $29 million by eliminating one of the tests required in 10th grade and also ending the costly evaluation of students’ collections of work samples, which has been an alternative available to students who fail the 10th grade tests.

House Bill 2214 has an emergency clause to let 2015 seniors graduate this year without passing the biology test; roughly two-thirds of students using the collection of evidence alternative failed. The bill also reduces the complicated array of state testing options in future years as the state shifts from 10th-grade to 11th-grade testing for math, reading and science for the Class of 2016.

The transition is phasing in the national Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests for math and language, developed by the National Governors Association; a state science test that measures more than biology is under development.

We support elimination of excess testing but without ditching student knowledge standards that the state has tried since 1993 to raise. Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Senate Republicans have valid concerns about moving to a college readiness system and away from one requiring students to demonstrate knowledge. But the reform bill is backed by the state Student Achievement Council and schools Superintendent Randy Dorn, who asked for the measure.

A key element of the proposal is that students failing to measure up as 11th-graders are given a shot at doing remedial coursework in science as seniors. This lets college-bound students avoid taking remedial coursework in college, often at personal expense.

The bill has 44 House co-sponsors. Reykdal predicts a lopsided vote for it in the House but resistance in the Senate. We encourage lawmakers to find a compromise reduces testing but retains standards for learning.

TESTS OF RAPE KITS

ARE LONG OVERDUE

Lawmakers approved important legislation this year to require timely tests or analyses of “rape kits.” These are evidence collection kits used in sexual assault cases.

House Bill 1068 mandates that police agencies ask the Washington State Patrol crime lab to test the kits, which include swabs for assailants’ DNA and other crime scene evidence. Requests must be made within 30 days – unless the victim objects.

Some 5,000 to 6,000 evidence kits from rapes have gone untested, according to WSP estimates earlier this year. Absent state action, Seattle Police said in January that it is moving ahead with tests of more than 1,200 rape kits that had been untested over a decade.

Democratic Rep. Tina Orwall of Des Moines sponsored the measure and said the goal is to identify serial rapists as well as to empower victims of sexual assaults.

The State Patrol lacks funds to test all the samples, but Orwall said her bill will put more in line for testing and can help identify more suspects.

The bill also creates a task force that will advise on how the state can begin addressing tests of older kits around the state.

These are long overdue actions that can now get underway thanks to Orwall’s persistence.

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