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Educators Wary of Testing Plan

Ohanian Comment: I am appalled that funding is "the greatest concern." How about student meltdown? The destruction of the arts? Recess? Unless and until educators stand up to the corporate-federal plan for the destruction of public schools, that destruction will continue.

A proposal by President Bush to require two more years of reading and math testing in high school has some state and local education leaders wondering about the cost and value of the results.

As part of his second-term education agenda, the Bush administration wants to expand the "No Child Left Behind" law to require two more years of testing in reading and math in high school, which would mean annual state testing in third through 11th grades.

He also wants to create a $500 million fund for states and school districts that choose to reward effective teachers and require national tests in reading and math be given to representative samples of high school seniors every two years.

It is the proposal to extend reading and math testing into the higher grades that has local leaders wondering how much testing is too much.

"The greatest concern is the funding issue," said Mary Alice Heuschel, deputy superintendent in the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Washington is developing the federally mandated reading and math exams for third grade through eighth grade that are similar in format to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, better known as the WASL.

The WASL is given annually to students in the fourth, seventh and 10th grades and is used as a gauge to determine how students are faring under the No Child Left Behind law. By 2008, students will need to pass the WASL's reading, writing and math exams to graduate from high school.

Heuschel questions whether the $250 million a year Bush is proposing for administering the additional tests will be adequate. There isn't enough now for the third grade through eighth grade assessments, she said.

Nick Brossoit, superintendent of the Edmonds School District, said he has mixed feelings about the president's additional accountability plans under No Child Left Behind, particularly the extra testing.

"We embrace accountability and champion academic achievement for all students," he said. "However, it is inadequate for the federal government to only provide additional funding for the test and to not provide the additional funding necessary to support all students reaching the proficiency levels."

Linda Byrnes, superintendent of the Arlington School District, said supporters of additional testing need to convince frontline educators of the need for more assessments.

"They need to help explain the purpose so we do more than just comply," she said. "What is it you are trying to find out? We need to know what it is they want to know. Then we would have something to sell."

Otherwise, students and teachers could become even more weary of tests, she said.

Many students, families and schools are already feeling the stress of the looming WASL graduation requirements. In some cases, students could be retaking the 10th grade WASL into their senior year of high school in order to pass it.

Eric Earling, the deputy secretary's representative for the regional office of the federal Department of Education, said the new requirements should not be too difficult in Washington.

"Really what it comes down to in Washington state is almost an extension of the education reform that was going on already," he said.

Great strides have been made in elementary school grades, and some of the changes Bush is proposing would shift the focus to older students, he said.

"Much like there was hand-wringing with the WASL, there has been hand-wringing with No Child Left Behind," he said.

Ultimately, both measures are improving student achievement, he said.

In her state of education address Nov. 12, state schools Superintendent Terry Bergeson said the No Child Left Behind law needs to be fixed.

"The goal of No Child Left Behind is a moral imperative," she said. "It is the implementation of the law that has to change."

Those changes should include fairer ways to hold accountable special education students, and students who are recent immigrants. They are included among several demographic groups in determining if schools are making "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind law.

Districts deemed not to have sufficiently improved scores for all groups for two straight years can be singled out to perform better or face federal funding sanctions.

Only schools that receive federal Title I funds are at risk of being sanctioned under the law.

In Washington, about 95 percent of school districts receive Title I money, which is based on the percentage of low-income students at a school. However, just under half of those schools receive the money. Statewide Title I accounts for about $200 million a year.

— Eric Stevick
Daily Herald


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