Concerns about state-mandated math test overblown

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Education reform in Washington state was built on the concept that every student must meet measurable academic standards before graduating high school.

In the 20 years since education reform began, the testing requirements have been introduced slowly and have been changed many times. The seemingly constant revisions, and the delays that come with each version, have often been motivated by a fear that many students would not meet state standards.

The required math test seems to be among the chief hurdles. Many students were having trouble. Over the years it has been fine tuned more times than Yo-Yo Ma’s cello.

This year’s graduating seniors were the first to be required to show math proficiency for graduation.

The numbers are good — the doom and gloom predicted did not occur. More than 90 percent of students passed either the algebra or geometry exam or an approved alternative.

That’s a vast improvement over numbers from just a year earlier when 71 percent of students passed algebra and 79 percent handled geometry tests.

Why did the scores improve so dramatically? One of the reasons might be human nature. The test given to the class of 2013 mattered. Students took it seriously.

Yet, some take a negative view.

Instead of proclaiming that more than 64,000 seniors passed the math exam, the focus was on the approximately 7,000 who did not.

We agree it is alarming that 7,000 kids won’t graduate because they could not pass a math test or do the graduation portfolio alternative (referred to as the collection of evidence).

But the alarm diminishes significantly after taking a harder look at the numbers.

Of the 71,671 students who stayed in school until the end of their senior year, more than 4,100 didn’t meet their math test requirement and another 2,700 never even attempted the exams, according to data collected by the state.

That means nearly 40 percent of those who failed did not even try.

In Walla Walla, hard work resulted in every student (44) at Wa-Hi and Lincoln High who submitted a collection-of-evidence portfolio passing. Statewide just 78 percent passed.

But some can’t accept the reality some students will fail. They believe every student, if they make an effort, should graduate.

That’s an unrealistic view if standards are imposed — and maintained.

It is, no doubt, painful to the students (and their parents) who did not meet math standards. But that does not mean they are booted out the public-school door.

Some will continue to work toward graduation by attending another year of high school, said Nathan Olson, spokesman for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. State law guarantees a free public education until age 21 for those who have not earned a diploma or GED.

Establishing a math-proficiency standard and requiring students to meet it seems to have public education going in the proper direction.

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