Plan to reduce state testing has merit

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The concept of requiring students to demonstrate competency in basic subjects through testing to earn a high school diploma remains sound.

Unfortunately, the concept put into action more than 15 years ago by the Legislature has morphed into something that doesn’t work well for all students.

The state has stumbled and bumbled in the way it’s implemented the plans. There is no specific blame. It’s been a collective mess.

Standards were put in place, then changed and changed and changed again. Testing was started, it was modified, tinkered with and then tossed out. New tests were put in place creating more confusion and angst.

All these twists and turns have left Washington state with the flawed system it now has in place.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said on Thursday he will ask the Legislature to streamline the testing to reduce costs and reduce the amount of time teachers and students must devote to testing.

While we still believe it’s critical to hold students accountable for meeting minimum standards, we also believe the system in place has to be fair and reasonable. It needs some common sense infused.

Given that, Dorn might well be onto something.

Those who are scheduled to graduate next spring must pass exams in reading, writing and math. The number of tests required increases in 2015 to five — algebra, geometry, reading, writing and biology.

If students fail any one of those tests they can seek alternate ways to demonstrate their skills, but it is time consuming and expensive — about $400 per student per subject. In addition, going that route is seen by educators as being the wrong measure for some students.

Dorn said he wants to see the five exams (costing $30 each for each student) reduced to three. He is calling for a combined reading/writing exam and end-of-course tests in algebra and biology.

The Legislature should give Dorn’s proposal serious consideration. However, lawmakers should not stop there. They need to bring some stability to this entire system — the target should not be moving from year to year.

Streamlining the tests and focusing on minimum standards for the various subjects should help to bring stability.

The system to evaluate students who fail exams also needs revamping. That system should include a human touch. A way is needed to see the difference between a hard-working, dedicated students with good grades and those who skip class, don’t do homework and exert no effort.

Every kid learns in different ways just as every child has different circumstances in their lives. These differences make school far easier for some than others.

The system needs flexibility to consider students individually when necessary. Yet, it will be expensive.

But when you consider the thousands and thousands of dollars put into each child’s education through high school, spending a few hundred dollars is not too much to ask to make the right decision on a child’s future.

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