Local legislators rough up the WASL

The island’s representatives in Olympia and their Republican challengers agree that the WASL is failing.

Read my coverage of last night’s 23rd Legislative District education debate below.

WASL Draws Fire at 23rd District Debate
By Tristan Baurick

All six of the 23rd Legislative District candidates vowed to tame the beast they say is crowding out quality public school instruction and eating away at a shrinking state budget.

“WASL has become a giant,” said Mark Lowe, the Keyport Republican challenging state Rep. Christine Rolfes for the district’s Position 2 House seat. “We don’t need this elephant in our classrooms taking away class time.”

Unpopular with many educators and costing about $15 million more than last year, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning drew fire from all sides during a Wednesday night debate at the North Kitsap Community Center in Poulsbo. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Kitsap and the PTA Regional Council, the education-themed event touched upon school busing, foreign language instruction and the challenges of standardized testing.

Rolfes, a Bainbridge Island Democrat seeking her second term, agreed with Lowe that the WASL is in need of reform.

“My children call it the ‘Waste of a Student’s Life,’ and then laugh hysterically,” she said. “It needs to be simplified and shortened so little kids are not spending day after day on testing.”

The state requires students in grades 3 through 8 and high school sophomores to take the WASL, which measures reading, writing, math and science comprehension. The tests are required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The WASL has been criticized for being too difficult and for not taking different learning styles into account. It also steers teacher instruction toward test performance and away from a well-rounded education, according to Rep. Sherry Appleton.

“I don’t believe in standardized testing for children because children are not standardized,” the Poulsbo Democrat said. “And No Child Left Behind leaves every child behind.”

Larry Cooney, Appleton’s Republican challenger for the district’s Position 1 House seat, isn’t ready to do away with WASL.

“There needs to be some type of standardized testing,” the Poulsbo resident said.

Cooney disagrees with a state plan to toss out the math section of the 10th-grade WASL after years of low grades.

“If you see failure on the horizon, you shouldn’t go and (cut) the math test,” he said.

Connie Lord, a Poulsbo Republican challenging Sen. Phil Rockefeller, suggested the state copy more successful standardized tests.

“The whole thing needs to be overhauled or replaced,” she said. “But why reinvent something if there are other tests out there?”

The candidates also called for changes in how the state funds school transportation.

Lowe said he backs legislation crafted by Rockefeller, a Bainbridge Democrat, that allocates money according to miles traveled rather than the most direct measurement, he said.

Other candidates said the state should avoid funding increases for transportation.

“I would definitely not fund this unless it was reformed in a major way,” Cooney said.

Lord said more reliance on Internet-based learning and consolidated bus stops could save gas and money.

Republicans also called for a stripped-down approach for classroom funding.

But Democrats cautioned that the state should provide money for more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

“The most important thing we can do for our children is make them well-rounded,” Appleton said, listing social skills, art and sports as valuable components of a public education.

Rolfes agreed, noting that arts education has proven itself valuable on the world stage.

“One of the competitive advantages Americans have is their creativity,” she said.

The candidates broke party ranks when the discussion touched on foreign language requirements.

Lord and Rolfes said graduating seniors should demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language.

Lowe and Rockefeller said knowing a second language is valuable, but that the English language should be a public education priority.

“Our students are lucky that English is the international language of commerce and trade,” Rockefeller said. “I want to make sure they’re well (prepared) to handle that language.”