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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

January 30, 2013 at 8:54 PM

Senate panel considers holding back third graders and grading school performance

OLYMPIA — A state Senate committee heard testimony Wednesday about a trio of bills that would shake up public education in Washington state.

The bills, a mix of specific policies and broader accountability measures, were the first significant education measures introduced this session by Republican lawmakers, who — for the first time in many years — control an education committee .

In a two-hour hearing, the measure received praise from those advocating change, while some some teachers-union and school officials mostly criticized them.

Senate Bill 5237 would prohibit most third graders from advancing to fourth grade until they pass the state reading test; Senate Bill 5328 would give a letter grade to all schools and reward the ‘A’ earners; and Senate Bill 5329 would group schools that score the lowest on standardized tests into a special school district run by the state.

“We’re failing 18,000 kids a year, and they are disproportionately poor children of color,” said committee chairman Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, referring to the number of students who fail to graduate high school each year. “We have to do something.”

Supporters described the measures as common-sense approaches that would spur improvements by holding schools more accountable and giving more information to parents.

“We grade our students. Why not grade our schools?” said Dave Powell, a lobbyist for Stand for Children. “Honestly, what are we afraid of?”

Opponents said the bills were rife were logistical problems and would rely too much on test scores.

Marie Sullivan of the Washington State School Directors Association, a group representing school board members, said bills “shaming and blaming schools” would be counterproductive.

Most of all, opponents argued that a recent state Supreme Court decision mandates that lawmakers more fully fund education — before seeking to reform it.

“It needs to be a two-way accountability system, and it’s your turn,” said Wendy Rader-Konofalsk, a teachers union lobbyist.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest, State Legislature | Topics: education, education reform, McCleary decision

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