After studying the Washington Assessment of Student Learning for several years, the state Board of Education Thursday agreed that the high-profile exam is a “valid and reliable” graduation requirement.
The board’s 8-0 vote was largely symbolic because the state Legislature had already decided that the tests would be required for graduation by 2008.
Years ago, the Legislature asked the state board for its approval of the test before it would be required for graduation. But a new law, passed during the most recent legislative session, preempted the board’s decision.
Since the state board had already done the work, it presented its conclusion Thursday.
“It’s probably a good thing, to make sure everybody is rolling in the same direction,” said Terry Edwards, Everett School District’s executive director for curriculum and assessment. “But the law was already set. It makes no practical difference in how school districts proceed.”
State schools superintendent Terry Bergeson, who is a nonvoting member of the board, hailed the vote.
“I thought it was great that we had a unanimous vote to approve,” she said. “People want to blame the test because it’s a message they don’t want to hear, but we’re not getting the skills for the kids and kids need the skills for their future.”
Ron Woldeit, a former state Board of Education member who previously served on the Mukilteo School Board, hopes the WASL requirement will push school districts to allow fewer students to fall through the cracks.
“I fully support what the board did,” Woldeit said. “We’ll probably have to make some amendments, adjustments and modifications to the process, but there will be fewer students graduating from high school without being able to read, write and do basic math.”
Arlington School District Superintendent Linda Byrnes said the state board did its homework.
“I support their decision,” she said. “I am impressed with how hard they worked to convince themselves that the test was reliable and with the experts they used.”
The high school WASL includes reading, writing, math and science exams. The tests are also given to fourth- and seventh-graders each spring.
It has become increasingly important in recent years – and not just for students. The new federal “No Child Left Behind” act uses the WASL as an accountability tool, with sanctions eventually possible for those schools that don’t show enough improvement.
The WASL has long faced opposition from the 76,000-member Washington Education Association, which argues that the exam is biased against minorities and special education students.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.