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Guest Editorial

Leading with purpose

In Wednesday's Daily Sun News, a school patron wrote a letter to the editor questioning the leadership of the Sunnyside School District Board of Directors and administrators regarding the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) exam. The Board wants to clarify its position on the WASL and correct some misconceptions.

The Sunnyside School District believes that all students in the district can learn and achieve high standards. While the WASL is an important indicator of student success, it is not and should not be the only measure. Students throughout the Sunnyside School District take several exams each year, including the WASL, MAP and ITBS. In the past five years, scores on those exams have shown steady improvement throughout the district.

The Sunnyside School Board and its administrators are proud of the hard work teachers have demonstrated to improve student achievement. The district has hired reading, literacy and math coaches to provide support to teachers, while implementing the best teaching practices available.

The WASL exam is designed to measure student progress. In the year 2008, it will be the single determining factor for graduation. If a student passes, he/she will receive a diploma. If the student fails, he/she will not receive a diploma.

The exam is provided in one language only-English-providing a difficult barrier for the district's English language learners.

In July 2004, local parents involved with Nuestra Casa (a Latino parent group) presented a proposal to the Sunnyside School Board, which called for eliminating the WASL as a requirement for graduation and replacing it with the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) exam. While the Board appreciated the concerns of the parents, it did not agree that the WASL exam should be completely eliminated. The Sunnyside School Board took parental concerns into consideration and agreed to draft a legislative position for consideration by the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA). The Board drafted the following statement, which was adopted in September 2004 by WSSDA, a group representing all school board directors in the state: "The WSSDA shall initiate and/or support legislation that would exempt English language learners from taking the WASL until they have successfully passed the Washington Assessment of Language Proficiency test (or a similar English test approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction). Legislation should require school districts to prepare a plan to ensure these students are making adequate progress in learning the English language."

The Sunnyside School District Board of Directors was the first group in the state to stand up and question whether the WASL was an appropriate measure of academic progress for all students. Board members from hundreds of districts across the state agreed that the legislature should re-examine the intent of the WASL regarding English language learners and special education students.

In November 2004, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson gave her State of Education speech. In it, she mentioned that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) "will lead the work to change the unfair aspects of the (No Child Left Behind) law." One of those comments included, "fairer ways to hold special education students and English language learners accountable."

The Sunnyside School District Board of Directors has been instrumental in bringing about a new commitment from the state to make some much-needed changes to the WASL exam. The Board and district administrators are committed to making the Sunnyside School District the best school district in the state. The Board is convinced that all children can learn. The Board is doing the best job it knows how to ensure that each and every student has the opportunity to receive the best possible education.

If you still have questions about the Sunnyside School District's position on the WASL, please contact Dr. Rick Cole, Superintendent, at 837-6521 or write to rcole@sunnyside.wednet.edu. We also invite you to attend our next scheduled school board meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2004, 810 E. Custer Ave.

This guest editorial was submitted by the Sunnyside School District Board of Directors.

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