Advanced-Learning legislation moves forward in Olympia

By Kylee Zabel | Mar 27, 2013

WNPA Olympia News Bureau — House and Senate education-committee members are attempting to craft legislation that would automatically enroll Washington State high school students in advanced classes upon passing the statewide learning assessment.

The effort has not moved along without opposition, however, as parents, teachers and others believe there are additional problems outside of what school boards may remedy with automatic enrollment.

And for Mukilteo educators, Olympia’s attempts bring up an endless chorus in response: Show us the money.

Under the legislation, students passing the statewide assessment —the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) and End-of-Course Assessments (EOC) — would be enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge and Honors classes.

After an amendment to the Senate bill, Running Start would be conditionally added to the list.

AP, IB and Cambridge classes are dual-credit, college-level courses designed to prepare students for post-secondary education. Cambridge is currently only offered in Washington State at Federal Way High School.

The policy being pursued through HB 1642 and its Senate companion, SB 5243, is derived from a pilot program initiated in Federal Way at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

At first the program was criticized by local officials, parents and teachers causing the district to scale back its policy and allow parents to pull their student(s) out of the program.

Comments received by school board members indicated that students who are automatically enrolled could hold back students who voluntarily choose to take advanced courses.

In essence, it is believed that students automatically enrolled may cause teachers to “dumb-down” the curriculum at the expense of the students who wish to be in the class with or without automatic enrollment.

Judy Schwab, president of the Mukilteo School District Board of Education, said she finds that argument hard to believe.

“I can’t imagine an AP teacher ‘dumbing down’ for a student,” Schwab said. “Those classes are rigorous.

“We encourage as many students as possible to stretch if they can.”

Likewise, the comments in opposition stirred support for the program from other school board members and education reform advocates. Tony Moore, president of the Federal Way School Board, was one disheartened by those comments.

“There are people who believe that not all children can learn, can excel and have the intellectual capacity to be challenged. In Federal Way, we reject that notion,” he said.

Now lawmakers would like to see that notion rejected across the state.

Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle), sponsor of the House version, said, “When you set the bar high, you can rise to the occasion to reach that bar.”

Similarly, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, who has not yet taken a stand on the legislation, said that when expectations are raised, students strive to meet those expectations.

“It’s obvious to me that when you set standards, you want to set them high enough,” he said. “Students tend to perform to what’s expected of them.”

Mukilteo district’s Ms. Schwab agrees.

“The idea is that every student can achieve high levels,” she said.

The problem, she said, is paying for these proposals.

How do districts find enough AP teachers? Or materials? Or classrooms?

“There are so many bills right now,” she said. “It’s as if the Legislature is always trying to come up with stuff, but they aren’t addressing the one big issue – funding.”

The State Supreme Court agrees.

The court’s 2008 McCleary vs. Washington State decision outlines funding goals the Legislature must achieve in order to meet the constitutional obligation “to make ample provision for the education of all children.”

– Paul Archipley contributed to this story.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.