OLYMPIA - The Senate approved a compromise package of changes to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning - the WASL. The WASL has been used by the Ocean Beach District since 1998, but the class of 2008 (the present eighth-graders) will be the first to have to pass the test in order to receive a diploma.

With no chance of earning a diploma, there would be little incentive for 10th-graders to stay in school should they fail the WASL, and therein lies the rub.

"We're acknowledging that it (the WASL) doesn't work," Senate Education Chairman Steve Johnson said before House Bill 2195 passed the Senate 47-0. "You can't have both high standards and high stakes," he stated.

Higher standards are arguably a good thing. The problem with WASL statewide is that only about half of the students pass it. According to a report by the Associated Press, only about one-third of the state's students passed the WASL last year. The changes would allow high school students as many as four retakes of the 10th-grade test required for high school graduation, as well as alternatives to the controversial high-stakes exam.

"It actually gives students an open door of opportunity to show what they've learned," Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe said. "Children learn differently. How they learn is how they should be tested."

Similar measures to change the WASL procedures have died in the past, but with 2006 approaching, the year the class of 2008 will be taking the test, lawmakers found it expedient to revamp the crucial examination. With such a high failure rate, the state anticipated a massive outcry and lawsuits from parents outraged their children would be denied a diploma.

The WASL currently tests reading, writing, math, and listening in the fourth, seventh, and 10th grades. HB 2195 would eliminate the listening portion of the test (Ocean Beach School Districts have historically placed the highest on this part of the exam.) and also eliminate planned tests in social studies, art, health and fitness. A science test will be added in 2010 as originally proposed.

If students fail the 10th-grade exam, they could either retake the test as many as four times or pursue some other avenue, as yet not decided upon, for proving how much they have learned. The bill commissions Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson to devise alternatives, which must be approved by the Legislature.

HB 2195 also sets up a separate certificate for students with learning disabilities, who could never pass the test under any circumstances.

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives where Education Chairman Dave Quall greeted it with approval. However, according to the AP, the bill's fate could be tied to three other education-related bills: a slimmed-down version of last year's charter school proposal, an overhaul of the state's learning assistance grants, and a bill that would let school districts collect more property tax levy money from local taxpayers.

Quall hopes to schedule a vote on all four education bills this week. "The deal is, we do all four," he unabashedly declared.

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