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Math WASL delayed for five years

Students across Washington completed the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) last week — just before lawmakers voted to delay making the exam a requirement for graduation.

Debating until the end of session, Washington legislators agreed to postpone the Math WASL graduation requirement five years, with an option for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to make a quicker reinstatement.

As of Monday, the proposal awaited the signature of Gov. Christine Gregoire, who was expected to approve the document, but may veto certain provisions of the bill.

If passed, the requirements will be delayed until no later than 2013, when this year’s sixth graders will be seniors.

Students now will take the WASL, and if they fail it they will follow one of several alternative graduation options.

Students can take the SATs or ACTs, look at end-of-course evaluations or other options. Students failing the WASL will be required to continue taking math courses through high school.

Those failing the reading and writing portions of the exam can also follow the same alternative options

Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said the plan was a necessary step, and said he was in favor of portions of the bill that allow determinations from the Board of Education.

“I believe it’s important for our state to maintain high standards,” he said. “We are failing our kids if, come graduation day, we give them a diploma and they can’t read, write or do math. Similarly, we’re failing our kids if, come graduation day, half the auditorium is empty because they haven’t passed a particular test.”

“It’s what I expected,” said Dan Whitford, South Kitsap School District’s director of instructional services.

Whitford had not yet examined all of the details of the legislation as of Monday morning, but said the delay would allow the school district to bring failing students up to speed before the WASL is required in 2013.

“It’s probably the right thing to do at this time,” he said.

SK Superintendent Bev Cheney also had not had a chance to fully examine the document as of Monday, and said she had no comment about the decision until she sees the details.

She said the delay was inevitable, but the question lies in the alternatives, and how they affect individual school districts.

“The devil is in the details,” Cheney said. “What I’m really looking for is the details.”

Cathy Gangnes, math chair at South Kitsap High School, said the decision would not hugely affect curriculum. She said math teachers will continue to work with struggling students and encourage them to pass the exam.

Gangnes said that, even though students have been confused by mixed messages from news about the WASL, the school will “continue to give them the same message that the WASL is a test that prepares them for life. It’s to their advantage to be prepared and meet standards.”

The Legislature also completed the two-year budget, and, according to a press release from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, raised core funding by $165 million.

The budget also includes $309 million in new money for school districts to help struggling students.

The press release said that the increased budget will enhance compensation for school teachers and staff, including a 6.5 percent cost-of-living increase over two years and a reduction in teacher salary inequities, which will provide an additional 1.3 percent salary increase for most teachers.

“The two-year budget passed by the Legislature strikes a good balance among helping school districts with the funding they need, helping struggling kids meet academic standards, and compensation and training for teachers,” said Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson.

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