How Low Can You Go?

And why would anyone go low when it comes to children’s education?

Especially when it is THIS low

You could have knocked me over with a WASL test book.

My 10-year-old son received a letter signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson. “Congratulations!” it started. “… We are very proud of you, and you should be very proud of yourself.”

Apparently, my son “achieved the state reading, writing and mathematics learning standards.”

Here’s the punchline to my son’s letter. He is autistic in a self-contained special-education classroom with limited mainstreaming, can read some words, can add a little and can barely draw a straight line. Much as it pains me, I told my colleagues a few months ago, there is no way my pride and joy will ever meet state learning standards.

And then he did — or so they say.

Recently, a bright young acquaintance confided she didn’t pass the fourth-grade math test. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her my son, whose limitations she is aware of, nailed it!

I’m feeling a little hoodwinked.

I was an editorial writer before I was a mother. I drank the high-standards Kool-Aid way back in 1993 when education reform started. I was moved by my work as a tutor for an adult literacy program. I was stunned to learn my student with a third-grade reading level had graduated high school. If she had gotten help at 10 instead of 30, her whole life might have been different.

Since then, I have written scores of editorials supporting the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. I defended keeping standards high.

“The diploma has to mean something,” I argued. Over. And over. And over.

As the stakes ratcheted up to become the threshold for graduation this year, I was persuaded to spike my WASL Kool-Aid with a little accommodation.

Sure, let’s have alternative ways to pass the WASL. The students still have to meet standards, they’ll just do it in different ways. So a kid who has test anxiety gets to show he meets the same high standards in a different way, in a portfolio of work.

Which is how my son took the test — by portfolio in the Washington Alternate Assessment System. It was a meticulously kept body of work, representing honest, hard effort and, indeed, progress. But it did not — repeat, did not — meet any common-sense interpretation of fourth-grade standards.

Turns out, in education’s semantics wonderland, there are standards and then there are standards. Under No Child Left Behind policy, the federal government requires states to establish standards for special-education students. In Washington, special-education students have only to meet their own personal “standard” based on the goals in their annually revised Individual Education Plans.

You can go here to read my past rants on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

My apologies to Ms. Riley for reprinting so much of her editorial here, but it is the perfect piece of work that proves Washington State does not care about the education of children.

Later in the editorial, Ms. Riley writes about how she was asked if her objection to these very low standards meant that she wanted the her son “to count against the school”.

Her answer was “no”.

My answer would have been a resounding “yes”. If the school isn’t teaching my child, then I want that reflected in the collective test score. If the school is nothing but a day care for her child, then why should it look as though he is being taught? They should get no credit for doing something they are not.

Which is exactly what this new WASL system is doing to the kids. Patting them on the back and saying “Well, you’re dumb as a rock, but that is a mice macaroni art project you got there, kiddo! Welcome to the next challenge we’ll be putting in front of you that we have in no way prepared you for. Don’t worry, when you fail this one, we’ll pass you upwards again any way. And don’t forget to tell your parents that if they vote against the school levy, you won’t be this smart.”
Yet another reason to keep you children out of public schools.

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