Governor opposes delay in WASL math and science testing

SEATTLE - Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday she opposes state schools chief Randy Dorn's proposal to delay the requirement for students to pass math and science tests to graduate, because the state's economy depends on Washington students leaving high school well trained in both subjects.

Dorn announced Thursday a proposal to delay the math requirement until 2015 and science until 2017.

A chorus of detractors called the superintendent of public instruction’s announcement – in a speech to the Washington State School Directors Association – the wrong approach to fixing the state’s education system.

“The superintendent is concerned about the graduation rate. I am concerned about the bigger picture – preparing kids for life. I think parents share that concern,” said the governor, who is scheduled to speak today to the same association of school board members from across the state.

Dorn also wants to establish a “two-tier” bar for meeting the math standard. If students don’t reach the “proficient” level on statewide tests, they could still graduate if they score at a “basic” level and pass four years of math classes.

Last spring, just 45 percent of 10th-graders passed math on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and 39 percent passed science. The WASL is to be replaced with a new test this spring.

Dorn said he talked to the governor and was aware of her displeasure with his proposal.

“I think everyone realizes we have a problem,” he said. “I could just let it ride and wait until 2013 when we have a train wreck … I don’t think that’s leadership and I don’t think that’s right.”

In 2013, under current state law, high school students will be required to show proficiency on statewide tests in reading, writing, math and science in order to graduate.

Mary Jean Ryan, chairwoman of the State Board of Education, called Dorn’s proposal a distraction from the serious work that needs to be done to improve science and math education.

She noted that Dorn listed a number of ways the state could improve math and science education in his speech.

“Once and for all we have to stand up all together and make the commitment that we’re going to do these things,” Ryan said.

Lawmakers, who will decide if the proposal makes it to the governor’s desk, gave it a mixed review.

The chair of the House Education Committee supports the idea of another delay, especially for the science assessment. Two years ago, the Legislature delayed both math and science requirements.

“Our test scores pretty much demonstrate that we are way behind in science particularly,” said Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, who said Dorn’s proposal would get a good hearing in the House.

He said the math delay would give the system a chance to catch up with the switch to end-of-course exams for algebra and geometry. For the first few years of the switchover, students may be asked to take one of those exams a year or two after finishing the class, Quall said.

“If we’re not doing a good job in math and science in the instruction, then we have to deal with that. But let’s be fair to the kids,” Quall said.

The state’s largest teacher’s union, the Washington Education Association, also came out in favor of the proposal, which President Mary Lindquist said made a lot of sense in tough economic times when dollars for education were shrinking.

The state PTA is opposing the proposal as a step backward. So are the League of Education Voters and the Washington Roundtable, an association of corporate executives.

Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, said the plan would put Washington children even further behind their counterparts in China and India.

“If the Legislature doesn’t have the character and the guts to truly invest in the future of our children, then we might as well just throw in the towel,” Anderson said.