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NCLB Outrages

Washington Standardistos Offer Stupid Quotes of the Day

Stupid Quote of the Day:
"Our teachers have set a goal of 100 percent (proficiency) next year."

Second Stupid Quote of the Day: "We're going to have to break the mold ... (and) we're going to have to have a big, breakthrough performance."

By our count, this is the 64,829th time state schools superintendent Terry Bergeson has said they're going to break the mold. It looks more like this allegiance to NCLB is breaking kids.

BURIEN -- Washington students made gains on the three Rs -- but they still got an F.

Students in grades four, seven and 10 scored higher on the reading, writing and math portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning than they did a year ago, according to results released yesterday.

But more than 70 percent of the seventh-graders who took the test last spring failed to pass all of the required subject areas. That same group of students -- the graduating Class of 2008 -- will be the first who must pass the WASL to earn a diploma.

The results also revealed that broad racial disparities remain among test-takers, and special education students fell well below standards.

State schools superintendent Terry Bergeson said the results mark the biggest improvements yet. But a "breakthrough" is needed if the state is to meet its own standards, she said.

"We've got to do something about this, and it's a shared responsibility," Bergeson said. "We're going to have to break the mold ... (and) we're going to have to have a big, breakthrough performance."

Bergeson and other officials insisted the scores would improve significantly by the time it is a graduation requirement.

For one thing, students perform dramatically better when they know graduation is on the line, they said. And educators, politicians and teachers unions plan to use the test results to lobby the state Legislature for education reform.

"We still have a goal that all of the kids will make it," Bergeson said. But "if we do business as usual, the prognosis is not a happy one."

For example, Bergeson and others want funding to allow students to retake portions of the test they fail. They seek more flexibility in the testing of special education and English-as-a-second-language students. They hope lawmakers will change the scoring to allow for a limited degree of averaging of the various subject areas. For example, a high math score might offset modest deficiencies on the reading portion of the test.

And they want the state Legislature to provide more money -- particularly for class-size reduction and pay raises for teachers.

James Kelly, head of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said the WASL will only succeed in improving public education if the state and federal government provide more money for struggling schools.

"Everyone is progressing, that's a good thing. But a gap remains -- it's a gulf," Kelly said. "We must all step up and support our schools more than we've ever done before."

Ricardo Sánchez, director of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, said the state hasn't provided the necessary financial support to close the gap. "The gap, for the most part, just isn't going away," he said.

The WASL tests grew out of the state's landmark 1993 education reform law.

The WASL test, given to students in grades four, seven and 10, includes multiple choice, short answer and essay questions and is meant to measure students' proficiency against set standards.

Some parents and students complain that too much weight is put on the WASL. Jen Hewett, a 16-year-old honors student at Tahoma Senior High in Maple Valley, said scores like those released yesterday only serve to demoralize students.

"Only a third of them are passing right now," Hewett said. "Basically, you're just telling them that two-thirds of the population is set up to fail."

Hewett, who said she scored in the 99th percentile in every category of another widely used assessment test, refused to take the WASL last spring, passing out anti-WASL pamphlets and buttons with slogans such as "WASL Schmasl" between classes and at lunch.

A Girl Scout who plays golf and guitar and plans to be a math professor, Hewett said she doesn't oppose the standardized testing. But, she said, "it should be handled differently and not as a graduation requirement until it's been proven as a reliable test."

"It's probably one of the worst ways to judge our school," Hewett added, saying that her curriculum was inappropriately altered to improve test scores. "We were taught to the WASL."

But officials and WASL defenders say the test holds schools accountable and lends key insight on students' learning. For example, last year's WASL showed that students are struggling to separate main ideas from supporting details in reading. At the same time, their abilities to solve mathematical equations improved.

Medgar Wells, principal of the 500-student African American Academy, said his school is teaching to the standards, not the test.

The K-8 Seattle public school achieved some of the greatest improvement in test scores last year. Writing scores for grade four jumped 44 percentage points over 2002, with nearly 63 percent of students meeting the standard last spring. Math scores for that grade improved by more than 35 percentage points, with 42 percent of students passing that test.

About half the kids in Wells' school took part in WASL tutoring, both during and after school, he said. "It builds kids' confidence with the belief that they could do it. It's given our teachers the instructional strategies and a plan to get there," he said. Further, the school analyzed the grade-three scores on another test last year to root out weaknesses, he said.

"We're pleased with our progress but were looking for greater gains," Wells said. "Our teachers have set a goal of 100 percent (proficiency) next year."

Rich Kincaid, principal at Sherwood Elementary in Edmonds, said he may need to offer his students similar preparations and advance help.

Kincaid was shocked by his fourth-graders' failure rate on the math portion of the test.

"The bottom just fell out of this," Kincaid said. "All the other indicators that we use to assess kids indicated they'd do well."

— Angela Galloway
State's students improve, but aren't passing the WASL
Seattle Post Intelligencer


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