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Chs Principal Wants State To Reduce Number Of High School Exit Exams

Bill in state legislature

By BEN MITCHELL

The Enterprise

A bill has been introduced to the Washington State Legislature that would reduce the number of student assessments required for graduation and Columbia High School Principal Troy Whittle says it's about time.

"As it stands, the current freshmen will have to take eight tests to graduate," he said. "That's too many tests."

The bill, House Bill 1450, would eliminate one of those assessments and combine two others in order to streamline and reduce the cost of high school exit exams.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn proposed the changes back in December and the bill is scheduled for a public hearing tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. in the House Committee on Education.

"Testing is important," Dorn noted in his proposal, "but over-testing creates a system in which too much classroom time is devoted to preparing for tests, taking tests, and preparing to re-take tests or moving to alternatives when students fail to pass."

Whittle agreed and said that too much testing can "sap the creativity from learning."

"I support standardized testing up to a point," he explained, "but it can take away the focus on arts and CTE (Career and Technical Education) courses."

Currently, students graduating in 2015 (this year's sophomores) have to pass a Reading and a Writing high school proficiency exam as well as Biology, Geometry, and Algebra I end-of-course exams before they can get their diplomas. Dorn's proposal would axe the Geometry test and combine the Reading and Writing exams into one assessment.

Whittle wasn't sure why Algebra I was chosen over Geometry and said that "both classes are equally important," and that he would prefer an integrated test. He agreed, however, that "having one test is a good idea."

In addition to the five exit exams, the class of 2015 will also have to take a trio of "Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium" tests in 2014. The new program will require students to take a Literacy, Mathematics, and an English/Language Arts exam during their junior year. Whittle said the SBAC exams are supposed to have "a strong career and college readiness preparation to them."

The amount of testing required of students has risen dramatically just in a few short years. Seniors who graduated in 2012 were only required to pass the Reading and Writing exams. For math, students could chose to take either the state exam or take four years of math in order to graduate.

This year's class and the class of 2014 don't have that option. They are required to take the state exam in math, bringing those classes' exam totals to three -- still two exams short of the five mandated for the class of 2015.

Whittle hopes that the members of the Legislature realize students are over-tested. He said he attended a legislative forum with White Salmon Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Jerry Lewis on Nov. 27 and noted that few legislators knew the amount of testing Washington students are subject to.

"Quite frankly many of them were surprised," Whittle said. "They were like, 'Really? It's that much?'"

As for the SBAC tests, Whittle explained that it was unknown if they would become a graduation requirement, but suggested it was somewhat likely they would. If they do, even with Dorn's cuts, future Columbia classes would have to take six exams to graduate -- marking yet another increase in state assessments.

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