Opinion

We agree: Keep state tests linked to graduation

Timberline High School students listen to a presentation about the structure of the reading section of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning back in 2009, when the WASL was still the standardized test used in our state. Today, student performance is measured using national Common Core tests.
Timberline High School students listen to a presentation about the structure of the reading section of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning back in 2009, when the WASL was still the standardized test used in our state. Today, student performance is measured using national Common Core tests. The Olympian file photo, 2009

As the state Legislature over the past half-decade lurched toward compliance with a state Supreme Court ruling on providing resources for K-12 public schools, much was said about the billions of additional dollars that would be needed and were eventually approved.

Very little was said about whether students were graduating prepared to meet the rigors of the workforce or of postsecondary education, or whether they were graduating at all. In other words, student outcomes were rarely part of the McCleary court case discussion.

For the past 25 years, standardized testing has been a key gauge of student learning. It was admittedly an imperfect gauge, and the state dropped tests that did not fit well with curricula or with other educational goals. But last year, the Legislature settled on a reasonable compromise that eliminated a biology exam but called for English and math testing in the 10th grade; those students who didn’t pass the test would have two years to gain proficiency in the subject and then graduate.

This compromise struck a balance between burdensome testing and necessary accountability for students and teachers. It also provided a tool to evaluate school district performance.

But now, support for the tests is being tested in the state House and Senate. Two bills, SB 6144 and HB 2621, would remove the exam requirement for graduation. With Democrats now in the majority in both houses, teachers unions are pushing this move, which essentially means seat time in class is the prime requisite for graduation.

The Legislature should reject these bills. Statistics show that in the past decade of required testing, graduation rates rose 7 percentage points and now hover around 80 percent. (They’re 86 percent in Tacoma.) In addition, the percentage of high school graduates needing remedial education in state community and technical colleges declined.

The 10th-grade testing goes into effect this school year, so districts haven’t even had to chance to see how well the compromise is working. A state that has just increased its education investment by $13.3 billion over the next four bienniums needs some way to evaluate whether its massive effort is paying off.

This is a state that has jumped from the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test, to the Measure of Student Progress tests, and now to the language and math tests tied to Common Core. The state should stick with last year’s decision for a while, see how well it’s working and tweak it where necessary. The Legislature needs a solid reason to throw out the tests altogether – rationale that now doesn’t exist.

The 10th-grade exam is not an all-or-nothing exercise; students who don’t pass it still have two years to bring their academics up to standard. That is the point of education: to provide our children with the skills needed to succeed in the working world. The Legislature should concern itself with preparing students, not pleasing a political pressure group.

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