June 18, 2009 in Opinion

Editorial: On WASL reform, let’s do the real math


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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So, yet another retreat on the math and science front in Washington state.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction wants to replace the WASL, which it has found wanting, with a different test to assess how well students are learning. The new high school test was to begin in 2012.

Now Randy Dorn, the state superintendent, wants to delay that for a year. If we can count on nothing else with education, we can count on postponements. The Washington Assessment of Student Learning was to apply to the Class of 2008. Pass it or don’t graduate. But that never came to pass, and it was watered down continually.

Then, the state turned on the test itself, calling it an inadequate tool for measuring student progress.

Dorn was elected in large part for his willingness to jettison the WASL and come up with a better test. But the state’s efforts to revamp math won’t be ready until 2011. Science won’t be ready until 2012. Thus, says Dorn, teachers and the Class of 2013 won’t have time to adapt. He plans to ask the Legislature for an extra year.

In other words, the next three graduating classes will be operating under assessment standards that have been condemned to extinction.

Assessing the educational quality in the state has always been confusing. While WASL scores were disappointing, the test itself was more difficult than those in other states. Plus, there’s the fact that the state’s SAT scores have been consistently among the best in the nation. Then there’s the math conundrum. Just what is a good curriculum? The one in the process of being changed was once deemed to be the answer.

Citizens can’t be blamed for wondering how this all adds up. This is where the Legislature needs to step in and make sure that the state’s goals are taken seriously and that the current solutions don’t become the future problems, which is what happened with the WASL in general and the math curriculum in particular.

The state has been deeply involved in reforming education since 1993. Dorn himself was a key architect of the changes that brought about the WASL. Sixteen years later, he’s in charge and asking for another delay while a WASL replacement is devised. This does not look like progress. It looks like redefining success to cover for failures.

Legislators need to question Dorn sharply on why this will be the delay that finally matters.

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