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September 8, 1997


New assessments essential to strengthening schools

  by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe
   No one ever said improving education would be easy. Like all worthwhile achievements in life, it takes hard work.
   Over the last 21 years, I have worked as a parent, a school board member, a state senator, and a grandparent toward one goal: To provide the opportunity for all children to graduate from our high schools with the highest level of academic knowledge and skills to continue into the job, career, or college of their choice.
   This is not only my goal, but the goal of every parent, teacher, and community member I've ever talked with. And it is the goal of education reform, an ongoing effort to invest in our children's future by raising this state's academic standards.
   Education reform is a common-sense plan to give every child the skills and tools he or she needs in today's world. It sets high, clear, and attainable standards for students; measures whether they are meeting those standards; holds schools accountable for supporting students; and informs parents and the public when students need additional help.
   Raising standards and giving our students the tools to meet those standards demands involvement on the part of every single child, parent, teacher, community member, school, and elected public official. Above all, it requires the courage and commitment to look beyond the moment, for there are no quick and easy answers.
   The Commission on Student Learning, with help from parents and community and business members, is challenging our children to meet raised expectations for academic performance. Last year, about 68,000 fourth-graders across the state volunteered to pioneer the new test assessment to help us determine how far we need to travel to achieve our goals. These children, their parents, and their teachers should be commended.
   Next year, in 1998, every fourth-grade student will take the test. The fourth-grade students in 2000 will be the first to have the new standards and the support network in place to reach those standards. Whether they live in Aberdeen, Seattle, or Walla Walla, they will be expected to meet the same high standards.
   By making courses and tests tougher, we as a community acknowledge that this is a more demanding world we live in. We acknowledge that children today need not only to have a thorough grounding in the basics but also be able to demonstrate and apply their knowledge and skills to complex problems we can't even dream of now. And we also recognize that our children are capable of learning much more than we used to assume.
   These new test will not only show us how far we need to go, but they also will provide a map to help us get there. Teachers will use the results to focus on improving their own teaching skills and targeting students' weaker subject areas.
   Higher standards, new assessments that challenge students to reach those new standards, and the combined support of everyone in the community are essential to improving education for each child in Washington.
   It takes courage to change the way we have always done things, but those 68,000 fourth graders who eagerly took the new test last spring weren't afraid of change. Like them, let's embrace it.