By the year 2001, Spokane Valley high school students could be required to pass a basic skills test before receiving a high school diploma.
This spring, fourth-graders statewide will be tested to determine how much of what a state commission says they should know they indeed do know.
Next year, teachers statewide will begin assessing first- through third-graders’ reading and math competency.
It’s all part of the state Commission on Student Learning’s essential academic learning requirements, initiated by state law in 1993. The goal is to raise the standards of academic achievement and improve student performance statewide.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the commission’s executive director, Terry Bergeson, met with parents, teachers and administrators from Spokane Valley schools to explain the commission’s work.
“This legislation is impacting what’s going on right now in East Valley,” Bergeson told a group of business owners from the East Valley School District.
The commission is focusing on teaching children traditional subjects - math, reading, writing and science - but making lessons more applicable to the real world.
“Kids go off to college, get a four-point GPA, then come home and live with their parents because they don’t have a skill, they can’t do anything,” Bergeson said. “We know the skills are going to set these kids free.”
The Commission on Student Learning is an 11-member state body appointed by the governor and state board of education. It was established by state law to develop statewide academic standards.
The commission is working to identify what students need to know and need to be able to do, develop a way to assess students’ knowledge, develop a way to hold schools accountable for student progress and make the education system more performance-based.
The commission is working to have standards and assessments available for school districts to put in place voluntarily by the fall of 1997. The law demands that schools implement the standards by the year 2000.
Testing of fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders will focus on reading, writing, math, listening and speaking. Testing takes place at these so-called benchmark grade levels to ensure students are progressing at the levels they should.
The tests will be more complex than other standardized tests students take, Bergeson said, because “they will allow students to show they have real world skills.”
The standards also will make teaching more meaningful, by allowing teachers to hone in on what’s most important, Bergeson said. She cited the example of classes in self-esteem. If students understand the reading and math they are taught, self-esteem and confidence will develop naturally from student achievement, she said.
“Teachers are scared about this because it’s going to be more accountability, but it’s also an opportunity to get some things off the plate,” Bergeson said.
“We’ve got a curriculum that’s a mile wide but a quarter-inch deep. They’re learning all this stuff, but not in enough depth.”