Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Weekly News Conference: Education and Children's Health Issues
September 8, 2004

Good morning. Thank you for joining us.

Today is the first day of school for most Washington students. Earlier this morning, Mona and I escorted Emily to her first day of second grade, and Dylan starts kindergarten tomorrow! They’re growing up so fast! Mona and I are so proud of them.

We’re proud of all Washington students – as well as their teachers, principals, school administrators, and parents.

Our children are part of a thriving, ever-improving, excellent education system in Washington state. More of our students are now meeting or exceeding our tough new academic standards.

Our kids are also making some of the biggest academic gains in the entire nation! They had strong performances on the latest S.A.T., the ACT college-readiness exam, and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

The National Assessment of Education Progress reported that our 4th and 8th graders scored above the national averages in reading and writing. And Washington led the nation last year in reading scores for African-American 4th graders.

But we’re not satisfied with just being better than the national average. We have higher standards in Washington state, and more and more students every year are meeting these standards.

There are a number of topics I want to cover today:
· The 2004 WASL scores
· Where we are on the new graduation requirements for the Class of 2008
· Tremendous success of the 2004 Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge
· Reports of lead in school drinking water systems
· The importance of sending kids off to school properly immunized.

2004 WASL Scores

We begin with the 2004 WASL scores released just last week.

Students showed improvement in every subject area, at every grade level. A lot of hard work went into these improved scores – from students, teachers, principals, parents, school district staff, volunteers and community members.

I want to especially thank Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson for her great leadership on education reform.

The proof is in the numbers. Take reading, for example.

· In 1997, 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.

In math, the gains were just as significant at all three tested grade levels.

I was also pleased to see stronger improvements across the board for all minority and ethnic groups. This is proof that we are making progress in closing the achievement gap.

We are committed to making sure every Washington student meets or exceeds our state’s tough new academic standards. We must continue to work together to give our children the education they deserve, and need to succeed.

Class of 2008

With the goal of helping every Washington student succeed, we have refined the new graduation requirements that take effect with the Class of 2008. Those students are now beginning their freshman year in high school. And they will be the first class in Washington required to earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement to graduate.

We passed key education legislation this year to help our students, teachers and parents better prepare for the new graduation requirements in 2008.

We passed legislation that clarifies the WASL and reduces the number of tests that students must pass to graduate down to the basics: reading, writing, math and, eventually, science. It also allows for retakes and alternative assessments. We passed legislation to require student learning plans and to better target Learning Assistance Program (LAP) money to struggling students and school districts that need it most.

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.

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.

We also need the federal government to do its part. Significantly more Washington schools and school districts have met the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements this year. But the federal government still must make sensible changes to this law, and provide funding for it.

Summer Reading Challenge

More students are starting off this school year with sharper reading skills. We have great success to report this morning from our 2004 Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge!

The challenge just ended on Labor Day. And, so far, we’ve heard from 12,065 children who have met my challenge of reading 15 hours – or more – this summer! That’s double the total amount of participants we had during the last two years (Last year’s total was nearly 6,000 participants)!

I’d like to thank the libraries across the state for their hard work in promoting the challenge. 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.

And we expect to hear from thousands more children during the coming weeks! The deadline for students to report their success is September 18th. I urge parents, teachers and school administrators to make sure the students send in their reports to my office within the next two weeks. They can find out more information at our Web site: www.governor.wa.gov.

If students don’t report their success, they won’t be eligible for a certificate of recognition from me or the grand prize of a trip for four to Disneyland! We’ll conduct the random grand prize drawing in a few weeks, and announce the name of that lucky reader next month.

Children’s Health Issues

As our children head back to school, I’d like to take this opportunity to address two issues regarding their health.

First, I’d like to discuss recent news reports of lead in school drinking water systems. I have been tracking this issue, and would like to make a few comments.

First, let me stress that the state has no known cases of lead poisoning caused by drinking water.

Even though kids are at much higher risk from lead in paint in their homes, and in soil, parents must feel comfortable that the water their children are drinking at school is safe.

That’s why I am announcing today that I am allocating $750,000 in state dollars to initiate testing for lead of drinking water fountains in elementary schools across the state.
The money would require a 25 percent match by school districts across the state to get us to $1 million dollars. That would pay for the initial testing of all drinking water fountains at elementary schools across the state. Younger children are at the highest risk for lead exposure.

I strongly encourage districts to test their water. I am also directing the state Board of Health to immediately address the issue of drinking water in our schools to ensure that the water is regularly tested and is safe to drink.

The Washington State Childhood Blood Lead Registry receives reports of all blood lead tests on Washington children. This information is compiled to help us track childhood lead poisoning in the state. We use the information from the lead registry to assure that children with elevated blood-lead levels receive appropriate follow-up, and to provide data on childhood lead poisoning in Washington.

Our state has a very low percentage of kids with elevated blood lead levels, and we need to keep it that way. Out of 44 states reporting to the CDC, Washington has the third lowest percentage of children ages zero to 6 with elevated blood lead levels.
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.
Childhood Immunizations
Second, as our kids head back into the classrooms, parents must make sure they are properly immunized.

Students must be properly immunized before they enter the classroom, and parents have to step up. This is an important health risk for their children.

Recent National Immunization Survey estimates 25 percent of children aged 19-35 months are not fully immunized in the state. That’s a 6 percent improvement from last year, which is the largest improvement in a number of years.

We must do more.

I urge parents to protect their children from serious and preventable illnesses by making sure their immunizations are up to date. They should confirm which vaccinations their children need to return to school by contacting their health care provider.

Many health care providers use the state’s CHILD Profile Immunization Registry to keep track of a child’s immunizations and can use the system to provide a current immunization record to parents. CHILD Profile helps to ensure that Washington children receive the preventive health care and immunizations they need.

Thank you.

Access Washington