State voters don’t favor retreating from WASL

When state lawmakers hear desperate calls to delay or demolish new high school graduation requirements – and they’re already hearing them – they can take some significant new polling data to heart.

Washington voters overwhelmingly support requiring students to pass the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning to earn a diploma, a requirement set to begin with the class of 2008.

A poll of 500 voters conducted this month for the Partnership for Learning, a branch of the business-backed Washington Roundtable, actually gives lawmakers several strong reasons to resist backing away from the important progress that’s been made toward preparing our children for the growing demands of the 21st century.

The scientific survey, which has a margin of error of 4.4 percent, shows that voters care about K-12 education, with 40 percent listing it as the Legislature’s most important issue. Health care was second at 25 percent, transportation third at 13 percent. And 50 percent believe that a high-school diploma in Washington doesn’t adequately prepare students for the workforce, let alone college.

On requiring students to show they’ve mastered core subjects by passing a graduation test, 34 percent somewhat favor and 37 percent strongly favor it. When the WASL was specifically mentioned as that graduation test, a whopping 45 percent strongly favored it, and another 23 percent somewhat favored it. Despite all the negative buzz about the WASL, only 16 percent strongly opposed it as a graduation requirement.

Support for the WASL was even stronger after respondents were told that students would be able to retake it up to four times, that an alternative measure will be provided after one retake, that targeted help will be given to students who don’t pass on their first try, and that students with significant disabilities will be exempted. With that knowledge, support for the WASL ballooned to 85 percent.

That level of citizen commitment to higher standards and a meaningful diploma should be embraced by lawmakers when they convene in January. In the 2006 session, they should focus on devoting remedial resources to students who need them, like funding for summer school, not on diluting the goals that are in place.

This year’s 10th-graders will be the first to have the WASL in reading, writing and math count for graduation. Results from this spring’s tests will be known in June, and the first retakes will be offered in August. Retake scores should be available by November. With that data in hand, lawmakers in 2007 will be in a position to make sound decisions about whether to tweak the graduation requirement. They’ll be dealing with facts, not just fears.

For now, a new fact stands out: Voters favor staying the course.

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