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September 9, 2004

Message from the Governor

This fall, the Class of 2008 enters high school, beginning one of life’s most memorable adventures. These students will also be entering the history books as the first graduating class in Washington required to earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement to graduate. The certificate is earned by passing the reading, writing and mathematics sections on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning—the WASL.

Gov. Locke and Washington's students

The Class of 2008 continues the odyssey that began in our state in 1993. That's when we passed the Education Reform Act committing our students, educators, schools and communities to higher standards of academic achievement.

A set of statewide learning standards was created by educators, parents and civic leaders, followed by the introduction of the WASL tests in 1997.

The purpose of learning standards and the WASL is not only to increase specific skills and knowledge students acquire in school. It is to provide an improved, more meaningful education—one that will better prepare our students to become more fulfilled adults, more productive and involved citizens, and will better enable them to compete and succeed in the challenging world of the 21st century.

The WASL is given to 4th, 7th and 10th graders. This year’s results are proof that we have made great strides in raising academic achievement.

In 1997, for example, 48 percent of 4th graders met the state reading standard. This year, 74.4 percent passed. In 1998, 38.5 percent of 7th graders met the reading standard. This year, 60.4 percent passed. In 1999, 51.5 percent of 10th graders met the reading standard. This year, 64.4 percent passed. Similarly significant gains have been made in math at all three tested grade levels as well.

While test averages for low-income minority students still trail averages for white students in our state, we're making progress in closing the achievement gap. In many instances on this year’s WASL, the gains among ethnic and minority groups were greater than among white students. I am especially proud that Washington led the nation last year in reading scores for African-American 4th graders.

Quote of the Week
“We have made great progress in education reform in our state. We must continue moving forward. We have come too far, and made too much progress, to change direction now.”
—Governor Locke, September 8, 2004

The gains Washington students are making are further validated by recent strong performances on the S.A.T., the ACT college-readiness exam, and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Such results are encouraging, and show that our state is on the right track. But 2008 is fast approaching, and we aren't where we need to be yet. We must do all that we can to make sure that our WASL-passing rates are as close to 100 percent as possible. We must make sure that every student in our state has ample opportunities to learn, improve, and graduate from high school with the advantage of a superior education.

This means continuing focused assistance to the schools and students that are struggling the most.

We must invest more in teachers. Teacher training and accreditation programs at our institutions of higher learning must energetically reflect the post-1993 world. Improvements in professional development programs should focus on the knowledge and skill sets students are now expected to learn. We must rely more on our teacher standards board to guide our efforts to adequately support teachers with all that they need to succeed. And, of course, teachers deserve greater compensation.

The Education Reform Act of 1993 did more than just commit our students, educators and schools to higher standards. It committed all of us to a higher standard of support and responsibility. We must step up to this commitment.

We are told that in some schools students will never be able to meet the higher standards, and that the standards should be lowered or the graduation requirement abandoned. Yet we’ve seen from experience that even students at resource-challenged schools and from low-income communities can make dramatic progress—but only if educators, parents, business and community leaders and other citizens join with and support them in the effort.

I believe in all of Washington’s students. I am convinced that if we as a society are energetically supportive of our state’s quest for education excellence, many more students will be better prepared for life and work than before education reform and the WASL. But it won’t happen if we enable failure by insisting that some students just can’t succeed, or by compromising the more rigorous educational standards we’re working so hard to reach—and toward which we’re making such great progress. Resigning ourselves to a mediocre education system means condemning our children to mediocre opportunities in life.

Achievement fosters further achievement. If Washington students are taught to have higher expectations of themselves now, and learn to work hard to meet them, chances are that as adults they will have higher expectations too—and the experience, knowledge and confidence to achieve them.

We must provide the time and resources to help Washington students succeed, and work together to teach kids the vital connection between school and life. Let’s use these higher standards to move toward a richer culture of learning, curiosity, and innovation.

If we expect students to believe in themselves, we must first be willing to believe in them, and then hold up our end. Let’s make sure the Class of 2008—and every class thereafter—knows that we believe they will meet the challenge of higher standards, and that this is a challenge we will meet together.

Gary Locke
Gary Locke

Governor’s Priorities
News Highlights

Protecting Kids from Lead
Governor Locke announced on September 8 that he is allocating $750,000 in state money to help test for lead in the drinking fountains of elementary schools across the state. Recent studies have discovered lead in some school drinking water systems. The money would allow school districts across the state to test all of the drinking fountains at elementary schools, since younger children are at the highest risk for lead exposure. “Even though kids are at much higher risk from lead in paint in their homes, and in soil, parents must feel confident that the water their children are drinking at school is safe,” the Governor said. “That's why I am allocating this money to initiate the testing of school drinking water fountains.”

The state has no known cases of lead poisoning caused by drinking water. “Our state has a very low percentage of kids with elevated blood lead levels, and we need to keep it that way,” the Governor said. “Out of 44 states reporting to the CDC, Washington has the third lowest percentage of children under age 6 with elevated blood lead levels.” The Governor said the state Department of Health is already working with schools, and has developed technical assistance tools and guidance to help them test for and respond to lead.

Washington’s Spectacular Summer Readers
Governor Locke reported great success from the 2004 Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge, which ended on Labor Day. “So far, we’ve heard from 12, 065 children who have met my challenge of reading 15 hours or more this summer,” the Governor said. “That’s double the total amount of participants we had during the past two years! I’m so proud of all of our summer readers. They know that reading is the key to all academic success.” Students can still report their summer reading success by logging on to the Governor’s Web site or by sending their results to Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge, P.O. Box 40002, Olympia, WA, 98504-0002. The deadline is September 18. “I’d like to thank the libraries across the state for their hard work in promoting the challenge,” the Governor said. “I understand that more than half of the children who have written to us so far either participated through, or heard about the challenge from, their local library.”

Making It Easier to Get Permits
Governor Locke’s push to make it simpler and faster to obtain development permits while maintaining environmental protections achieved success in King County on September 8. The state and King County signed an agreement under which builders, developers and homeowners in the state’s most populous county will find it easier to go through the process of acquiring three often-required development permits: hydraulic project approvals, water quality certifications, and stormwater permits. “Permit applicants in King County will be able to work jointly with state, local and federal government agencies in obtaining a permit instead of working separate processes with all these agencies,” the Governor said. “This saves time, and time is money.” The Governor emphasized that the new process will not harm the environment in achieving these efficiencies: “The environmental protections of these permits will remain as strong as ever. Regulatory reform does not mean sacrificing the environment.”

Upcoming Events

9/13: Governor's Cup Golf Event to Raise Money for College Scholarships for Foster Children
9/15: Depart for Trade Mission to China and Vietnam

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