Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Fall Meeting
October 24, 2002
Good afternoon. I am honored to be here before an organization so dedicated to producing great teachers for our schools.
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.
We’re all here today because we recognize the critical importance of teachers to successful education.
Research clearly shows that the single most important factor in a child’s success in school is the quality of the teacher. More than the research, we know this in our hearts. Every one of us can name the one or two teachers who most changed our lives.
Good teachers are not born—they develop through training, experience and dedication. We expect all students to meet high academic standards. We must also expect and ensure that all teachers have the expertise and preparation to teach to those standards.
This preparation should extend from pre-service training to early mentoring to ongoing, professional development.
Teacher testing is one way we can improve the quality of our teaching programs. I commend this group for developing your performance-based pedagogy assessment for new teachers.
We test basic skills of candidates already. But the true test of whether candidates will teach effectively comes when they hit the classroom.
We face teacher shortages in math, science, special education and bilingual education. Our colleges of education need to align their admissions policies and programs to produce more graduates in these high demand areas.
We need to creatively capitalize on the skills and abilities of our citizens. We should take advantage of mid-career professionals interested in becoming teachers.
Many of your schools are partnering with school districts to offer alternative routes to teaching certification. These schools are doing extraordinary work. They are designing programs that are classroom based, and that focus on demonstrated competency.
These programs deserve great credit for being responsive to this innovation.
We are making progress in meeting those standards. We have also focused on academic leadership and best teaching practices. We’ve recognized the critical role of parents and the community.
But there is much more work to be done. Our students are showing progress on the WASL. Test scores are rising.
But the achievement gap is evident in these test scores, and in 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.
This is a good time to celebrate a decade’s worth of Education Reform accomplishments. But we should also pause to consider mid-course corrections that will strengthen the foundation for the next 10 years.
We must make our expectations of students clear. Students need to know exactly how they will be assessed in each subject area.
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. Let’s take a lesson from the federal approach. Let’s 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. I propose dropping the current WASL exam for listening. I also propose that we 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 can be improved.
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.
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 statistical theory. I know I don’t have to convince this group that our kids’ progress comes first.
Let me be clear. Those other subjects and skills are essential, too. Social studies, arts and health are critical aspects of children’s education. Schools district can and do assess students’ knowledge of these subjects. Schools can require students to master these subjects before they graduate.
But for the WASL, let’s focus on the basics and hold districts accountable for the basics.
We must stay on this path of educational reform. We must not lose the valuable momentum we’ve built.
Times are tough. Our state budget situation is painful. We’re going to fund what matters most. We’ll make tough decisions about services the state can no longer afford.
But we will not 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.
Let’s continue to work together in improving Washington education for our state, for our children, and for our future.