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Sunnyside's objections to WASL to be heard by state leaders tonight

The Sunnyside School Board recently drew the attention of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson.

At their June meeting, local board members voted to support concerns of a group of local parents represented by Nuestra Casa, led by Sister Mary Rita Rhode. The parents group voiced their concerns about the difficulties students who can't understand English have with taking the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) tests. At the meeting, the school board voted to draft a measure to present to the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) that calls for the replacement of the WASL in favor of the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

The local school board revisited the WASL issue at last Thursday's regularly scheduled meeting.

Before getting into the gist of the conversation last Thursday, Sunnyside School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole told the board about a couple of meetings that would be taking place today (Monday). The first of the meetings was this morning in Yakima. Education Service District 105 Superintendent Jane Gutting invited all superintendents in the district to a meeting to discuss graduation requirements for monolingual Spanish speaking students. The meeting was also set to discuss alternative assessments for taking the WASL for monolingual Spanish speaking students. Tonight, board members and Cole were invited to share their concerns in Yakima at 7 p.m. at the ESD 105 office about the issue they have with the WASL. Cole said representatives from the state superintendent's office are scheduled to be on hand.

Last week, Sunnyside board member Bill Smith said he was concerned with the amount of learning time taken away from students with the administration of the WASL, which takes eight days of class time away from students.

"I am not convinced the WASL is the ultimate standard for achievement in learning," said Smith. "I think the whole WASL is flawed, but I may not know enough about it."

Smith encouraged the state superintendent's office to take an educational stance with school districts and the public.

Smith said he is glad the dialogue that has been ongoing within the Sunnyside district supporting the stance of the parents to eliminate the WASL has caught the attention of state leaders. Smith said he also had concerns of how much it will cost state taxpayers to teach students who don't pass the WASL.

"Let's start a dialogue and talk about what is best for the students," said Smith.

Sunnyside board member Fred Kilian agreed with a comment by Smith that the concerns the district has with the WASL is not just about Hispanic students.

"I am worried about all students," said Kilian.

Smith added that there is something wrong with a test such as the WASL when Honor Society students who already have their Associate of Arts degree in hand don't pass the test. Smith pointed out how at this year's graduation a number of Honor Society students weren't wearing the tassel signifying they had passed the WASL.

At the end of last Thursday's discussion, Cole asked for input from the school board members to clarify their position concerning the WASL controversy. The clarification basically states that while the school board is in favor of establishing academic requirements for students, it is concerned about students with limited English skills being required to take the WASL. Other concerns expressed by the school board include increased dropout rates and the amount of learning time students lose by taking the WASL.

Cole also shared that the WSSDA Legislative Committee gave its approval to the district's legislative proposal, requiring districts to prepare a plan that would exempt students who don't read or understand English from taking the WASL until they have passed the state language proficiency tests. Sunnyside School Board Vice Chair Lorenzo Garza is scheduled to make a presentation to WSSDA at its September assembly.

. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at mkantman@eaglenewspapers.com

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