Washington's public schools chief will not recommend that the WASL math and science high-school graduation requirements be delayed, though some education groups and legislators say students need more time.
"To delay math and science will slow down progress in two areas our future depends on," said Terry Bergeson, head of the state office of public instruction. Gov. Christine Gregoire has also opposed delaying the Washington Assessment of Student Learning standards.
Nearly half of 10th-graders did not pass the math section of the WASL last spring. The passage rate was worse for minority students, with just 23 percent of African Americans and 25 percent of Hispanics meeting standards. About 35 percent of sophomores passed the science portion of the WASL.
These students — the Class of 2008 — will be the first required to pass the WASL math, reading and writing tests to earn a high school diploma. Passing the science section will become a graduation requirement in 2010.
Rather than delay the math and science requirements, Bergeson said she will ask the Legislature for an additional $199 million for the coming biennium to help this year's juniors pass the math, reading and writing portions of the WASL.
The money would be used to increase teacher training, refocus the state's math curriculum and provide math and science teaching coaches to middle and high schools, Bergeson told The Seattle Times.
Mary Kenfield, governmental affairs liaison for the Washington State PTA, said delegates to its annual legislative assembly in Yakima last weekend argued that schools "just aren't ready."
"If a child doesn't even have a math book to take home, can we really expect them to meet the standards?" she asked.
Members of the Washington State School Directors' Association, at their legislative assembly in September, agreed that while instruction and classroom materials have been strengthened for reading and writing, it hasn't happened to the same extent in math.
"We're strong in support of standards. We support having an exit exam, but the majority felt it would be better to phase in math and science," said David Brine, the association's communications director.
The state Board of Education meets Friday to develop short-term and long-term strategies to raise math achievement. The board, Bergeson's office and the Professional Educator Standards Board, which oversees teacher credentials, hopes to draft a math action plan to present to the governor in November.
Many business leaders and some advocates for minority students support Bergeson's determination not to postpone the WASL graduation requirements.
Marc Frazer, executive director of the Washington Roundtable, a coalition of the state's largest employers, notes that almost half of Washington students who go on to college need help to prepare for college-level math.
The state requires only two years of high-school math for graduation and doesn't specify the content for those classes. Frazer also said the math skills required to pass the 10th-grade WASL aren't as demanding as those required for graduation in other countries.
He suggested the state develop a strategy for improving math instruction, in addition to retaining the WASL requirement.
James Kelly, president of the Seattle Urban League, said the issue is helping students meet the WASL standards. He said few students have taken advantage of tutoring and support classes that schools and other agencies provide.
The state set the 2008 deadline back in 1993, Kelly said. "Now is not the time to back off," he said.
Last year, the Legislature approved $28.5 million for classes and other help for students who had failed portions of the WASL.
Some students retook the math test in August after taking special summer-school courses based on a new math curriculum developed by the state. Scores from those retakes won't be available for a few weeks.
Students are allowed up to four retakes. After two failures, they can try to prove their competency through alternative measures.
— The Associated Press