State's tough math test is something to take pride in

Let's hope the replacement test for the WASL is at least as rigorous.

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A new national study of state-imposed math standards has found they don't add up.

The study, which was conducted for the federal Department of Education, found that many states declare students have mastered math at their grade level only because those states have set standards so low they're are a snap to exceed.

"States are setting the bar too low," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "We're lying to our children when we tell them they're proficient, but they're not achieving at a level that will prepare them for success once they graduate."

And there is little the federal government can do about it. Education is a responsibility of the states, which generally means school boards at the local level are allowed to establish policy.

If the federal government were to dictate standards, lessons plans or anything else there would - and should - be an outcry. What's good for New York or New Orleans, even Seattle, isn't necessarily good for Walla Walla, Waitsburg or Touchet.

Nevertheless, the wide disparity in standards is a concern for this nation. It means that a large percentage of today's students are not getting an adequate education.

But there's good news in the study - at least for Washington state.

Washington's math standards are tougher than those in most states. When compared to other states' test it was determined the Washington State Assessment of Student Learning was among the most rigorous. Another study, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Washington's fourth- and eighth-graders scored above the national average in math.

"It's not any great revelation to us," said Joe Willhoft, assistant state school superintendent for assessment and student information. "It is comforting to know we have assessments that have high expectations of our students."

Yet - and this is more bad news - some of Washington's schools could be punished for the state's tougher standards. The schools in which students don't do well come under fire for not meeting the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

Meanwhile, states with low standards - Mississippi and Tennessee, for example - dodge sanctions because their students are meeting their low standards.

It's madness.

And it makes one wonder if the federal standards, while well intended, aren't doing more harm than good. Shouldn't those who push students to excel be rewarded?

We believe so.

Ironically, Washington's current school chief, Superintendent Randy Dorn, is doing away with the WASL in favor of what he says will be a less time-consuming test. It's not clear at this point how this new test will compare to the WASL.

But what should be clear to state education officials is that Washington state's citizens demand the high standards established, and those standards must remain in place.

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