Give students every opportunity to succeed

Eleven years after the Legislature embarked on education reform, we’re close to having it fully in place.

But an important hurdle remains regarding the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the reading, writing and math test students will have to pass in order to earn the certificate of mastery required for graduation. Lawmakers need to clear that hurdle before adjourning next week.

The House has passed an implementation bill that, among other things, would allow for up to four retakes of the WASL for students struggling to pass it. That’s only fair, and sensible in that it will allow educators to target areas of weakness, helping as many students as possible to meet the new, tougher standards. The bill also calls for development of an alternate assessment for diligent students who can’t pass the WASL but can demonstrate their proficiency in another valid and reliable way.

The Senate Education Committee, however, last week added a provision that limits the number of retakes to two. There is no need for such an arbitrary limit, and good reason to offer more.

The first students who will have to pass the WASL in order to graduate enter the ninth grade next year. As the new requirement draws near, wills are being tested. But education reform is on the right track, and has the backing of key education and business leaders. What is needed is a specific plan for implementing the new requirements so educators, students and parents can prepare — not a retreat from the substantial progress that has been made.

Data from Massachusetts, where the Class of 2003 was the first required to pass a new state assessment to graduate, show that students who fail the test see their scores rise dramatically with each retake. Why? Because remedial lessons can target areas of weakness, giving students help where they need it. Rather than dropping out, these students are proving that with help, they can succeed.

Importantly, minority students have made the greatest gains with retakes, narrowing the ethnic achievement gap.

Limiting retakes to two probably won’t pass legal muster. Court cases across the country have established four as a reasonable minimum, and some judges have called for more than that. The focus shouldn’t be on how many retakes are required for a student to show proficiency in core subjects, anyway. It should simply be on getting them there.

Education reform recognizes that a knowledge-based economy will drive growth in the future, and that tomorrow’s employees — whether they go to college or not — will have to be able to do more than ever before. Giving every student ample opportunity to show they have the right tools is the best recipe for their success.

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