Yakima Superintendent speaks out!
by Benjamin A. Soria
Test-driven accountability is now the norm in public schools, a result of the No Child Left Behind Act and our state's reliance on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to determine compliance with that law. Many state and local educators believe that this reliance on a single test (WASL) is too narrow a measure of educational achievement. In the Yakima School District, we believe multiple measures, including teacher-produced assessments, norm- and criterion-referenced tests, teacher judgments, parent comments and recommendations, and other national assessment measures, form a more complete picture of student achievement.
Many parents and community members have been led to believe that the WASL is the single gauge of student and school success. It is not. It is an important measure, but not the only indicator of student academic achievement. While the Yakima schools value the results of the assessments, we view these results as part of a larger picture of student accomplishments.
Recently, the legislature delayed the 10th-grade WASL math assessment and questioned its validity as an appropriate tool for measuring student mathematics success. Legislators and others have questioned how our state could rank nationally among the top on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics, yet half of the current high school students who were tested failed the WASL mathematics assessment.
They also question how Washington's high school 50-percent failure rate in mathematics compares to recent data from the Student Achievement Test, indicating students are scoring at some of the highest levels ever on the math assessment part of the SAT.
Could the problem be the 10th-grade WASL? Many of us think so and welcome the postponement of this assessment until an independent study can be undertaken to ensure the 10th-grade test is determined to be an appropriate assessment. Our children, parents and staff deserve an answer to this significant question.
The recently completed legislative session also dealt with concerns expressed about the reading and writing sections. Parents and community leaders inquired, "If the 10th-grade mathematics WASL is questionable as an appropriate measure, what about the reading and writing assessments?" Are these assessments confident indicators of student achievement? We hope so, but students, parents and others deserve to know the results of an independent study.
To date, well over $1 billion has been spent on school reform since 1993. The public has the right to know if the return on investment is being accurately measured.
We believe strongly in accountability and hold ourselves to a high standard of personal and professional responsibility for the education of each child. As such, we believe in the use of multiple measures to determine our success. No Child Left Behind and the WASL continue to narrow the curriculum offerings available to each student and have reduced the measure of learning to a single assessment.
Failure on the WASL means failure in school. We do not subscribe to this single measurement as an indicator for the success of our students. It is one measure, but certainly not the only measure of the hard work and commitment continually demonstrated by our students, staff and parents each day.
Three barriers strongly impact student learning: (1) poverty level and related factors - a student's poverty level is the best single predictor of student achievement outcomes; (2) ability and disabilities of various kinds; and (3) culture and language of origin - students whose cultural background or language does not match that of the school. All three factors are widespread in our district; however, in Yakima schools we make no excuses for students not achieving at expected levels. We take our work seriously and care deeply about the success of every child.
Yakima schools are on a relentless mission to ensure all students will continue to achieve at high levels of learning. In Yakima, all does mean all! It means each student will be engaged in a rigorous, standards-based curriculum and educated in an environment that provides the necessary social supports for learning. This learning environment provides additional time and instruction as needed, without lowering expectations that each student will become a successful learner.
We hold high expectations for each student's success and believe the home is the first school, thereby honoring the partnership between home and school to support learning. In addition, we believe strongly in working closely with the entire community to build highly effective schools. Indeed, our focus is to guarantee the "public" is involved in our "public schools."
While our student population continues to grow more diverse, our state and national assessment systems continue to ignore this reality. Instead of providing and honoring multiple measures of success and providing for "continuous improvement" as a measure of student learning, many cling to a single assessment (WASL) as success.
The Yakima schools refuse to allow this single assessment to label a student or school as a failure. We owe it to our students, parents, staff and community to be the voice for our students and their future. In Yakima schools, all does mean all! We will continue to educate all our students to the best of our and their ability.
We look forward to your continued support in this significant effort.
* Benjamin A. Soria is superintendent of the Yakima School District.
Benjamin A. Soria
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