Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Issaquah Schools Foundation Annual Luncheon
October 24, 2002

Good afternoon. It’s great to be in Issaquah today. And it’s a special honor to address the Issaquah Schools Foundation.

Your work in helping young people successfully learn, stay in school, make the most of their potential and prepare for life is admirable, needed, and appreciated.

Thank you for the many programs—the reading programs, after-school programs, multi-cultural programs, and, recently, the Positive Options for Success program. You support your kids with passion, imagination, dedication and hard work. And it shows.

It shows in the 2002 WASL results achieved in the Issaquah School district. For 4th, 7th, and 10th grade students, Issaquah was ahead of the state average in all four categories—Reading, Mathematics, Writing and Listening.

I should add that Issaquah was well ahead of the state average in most areas. Give yourselves a hand.

I should also add that for 4th and 7th graders, test scores in three critical areas—Reading, Mathematics, and Writing—are better than any other time in the five years preceding this one. Congratulations.

The school year got off to a rough start. But everyone involved in resolving the labor dispute should be proud. You should be proud that in the best traditions of this community, students came first.

Putting the students first, the district, teachers and administrators compromised.

The strike was settled and teachers here are back to work. Back to doing the most important thing we can do—educating our children.

Education remains my highest priority. It is state government’s highest priority. Fifty-six percent of the General Fund budget goes to public schools and to our state colleges and universities.

We face a $2 billion deficit in the next biennium. Everything the state does will be scrutinized more than ever before. There will be deep cuts, and hard choices.

We are going to have to make some tough decisions. We must make sure we’re giving Washington citizens the services that matter most within limited resources.

Things will change.

But one thing won’t change. When all is said and done, education must still be our highest priority.

These are tough times, but would anyone argue that we delay the education of our children?

We’ve made great strides since education reform legislation passed in 1993. We established standards. We are making progress in meeting those standards.

We have focused the conversation on academic leadership and best teaching practices.

We’ve recognized the critical role of parents and the community. We know they are crucial contributors to the scholastic achievement of children and the improvement of schools.

But there is much more work to be done. Our students are showing progress on the WASL.

But there is an achievement gap!

It is evident in WASL test scores, kindergarten readiness, high school graduation rates, and college-going rates. Minority and low-income children are struggling to keep up and are not able to. Such gaps are unacceptable. We must redouble our efforts to close them.

It has been ten years since we passed education reform legislation. This is a good point at which to pause and consider mid-course corrections that will strengthen the foundation for the next 10 years.

We must make our expectations of students clear. We must make sure they understand how they will be assessed in each subject area. It’s time for a tune-up of the testing system and Certificate of Mastery.

The federal government is much more involved in testing and holding our schools accountable. Federal law now requires us to test in reading and math every year in grades 3 through 8. We’re also now required to test students in science at least once in elementary, middle and high school.

This approach is right in two clear ways: it ties accountability to our state’s standards, and it focuses on the basics. We must focus our state accountability system on the basics as well.

I’m proposing that we limit the WASL to the basics: reading, writing, math and science.

We should eliminate the current WASL exam for listening.

We should also discontinue expanding the WASL assessments beyond reading, writing, math and science. That means eliminating proposed WASL testing for social studies, arts, health and fitness.

Why? Because the basics give us objectivity. They make us more accountable. They give us hard results that educators can use to improve academic achievement.

Focusing on the basics takes us out of the realm of subjective assessments. It will help us avoid getting tangled up in controversy over what the results “really” mean.

How do we test for art? For physical fitness?

When we introduce controversy and subjective interpretation into the process, we derail progress. The focus shifts from our kids to an academic debate over testing methodologies and different personal viewpoints.

Let me be clear. Social studies, arts and health and fitness are essential, too. They are critical aspects of children’s education. Schools district can and do assess students’ knowledge of these subjects.

But must our 10th graders pass these subjects before graduating?

For the WASL, let’s focus on the basics and hold districts and students accountable for the basics. Otherwise, we risk developing a state assessment system that is too complex, too time-consuming, too subjective and too controversial.

Otherwise we risk getting in the way of the progress we are trying so hard to make in the classrooms. We risk failing our children.

But we cannot shortchange our commitment to improving this state’s education system. A first-rate education system is the cornerstone of economic and social progress in our state and across this land. Nothing matters more. Our future demands no less.

We must make the WASL more meaningful and more effective. And let’s continue to work together in improving Washington education for our state, for our children, and for our future.

Thank you.

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