26 January 2007


This letter went out to superintendents in our state:

Dear Washington State Superintendents,

I want to inform you about an important issue that is developing in the Washington State Legislature. A bill is being introduced this legislative session which calls for revising both the essential academic learning requirements (EALRs) and the statewide academic assessment system.

House Bill 1288 states that an Academic Standards Panel, made up of content area experts, will take a fresh look at the state academic standards. By next September, the Panel will make any recommended revisions to the reading, writing, math and science EALRs.

Secondly, a new WASL test will be developed based on the new EALRs. The bill states that the revised WASL must:

  • Measure an individual student’s annual growth in a manner that is reliable and valid;
  • Provide diagnostic results;
  • Be easily administered, quickly and easily scored, and easily shared with parents;
  • Be designed so that sample and actual tests are promptly available including individual student results;
  • Permit comparison to school districts and states outside of Washington;
  • Meet federal NCLB accountability guidelines.

The bill directs the State Superintendent’s Office to submit a student academic growth model (a system of measuring individual students' academic improvement as they advance from grade to grade) proposal to the U.S. Department of Education for NCLB purposes by 2009-10. This model would be based on results from the revised WASL.

Finally, House Bill 1288 removes all current statutory requirements and references to the Certificate of Academic Achievement and Certificate of Individual Achievement as a high school graduation requirement. This includes removing the requirements for students to pass the WASL, retake opportunities and alternative assessments.

Some of us were asked for feedback to our supe about this. My reaction? "S***!" Well, that was my initial reaction, but I don't think that he would find that particularly helpful nor enlightening. Here's what I did send:

We are not the only district to have spent significant amounts of time and money working on the alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Personally, I am in favor of reducing the number of standards at each grade level. I think what we have is a great "wish list" for each area, but it has not been truly boiled down to what is essential. I am not in favor of scrapping what we have. I understand our need to prepare kids for a competitive world, including an international stage and yet we do not know exactly what jobs will exist in the future. Education is its own worst enemy: we never leave anything in place long enough to really get a feel for how it works. Starting over with standards is not an option---we just need to tweak what we have.

I'm a little ambivalent about the second item. I like the WASL, oddly enough, but I have never felt comfortable with it being used as a graduation requirement. To me, the one benefit of that is the student accountability piece. NCLB conveniently leaves parents' and students' responsibilities out of learning and that's really not okay. I do like the idea of an annual "dipstick" test and something less cumbersome than the way WASL is now (especially for elementary students). I guess the bottom line is whether or not it's okay for a kid to make some progress every year and never reach an "end point" in the standards. How will this be any different than just moving up a grade each year? We've had that model for decades and the dissatisfaction with that has really pushed the standards based movement forward.

Finally, I don't know how I can face teachers with this information. I can imagine the "See! I told you it would all go away!" reaction from secondary teachers. Those who never truly bought in to moving kids toward the standards will feel completely reaffirmed in their beliefs and I can't imagine how that will ever be overcome throughout their careers after this instance. How do we tell all the other teachers who have committed themselves to standards based teaching and learning, "Thanks for playing!" What incentive will they have to buy in to the next wave?

2007 is shaping up to be the quite the year in both our district and state. Good thing I grow out my fingernails as I'm going to need them to hang on to the wild ride ahead.

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