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Proposal would be vocational-oriented option to the WASL

The class of 2008 –– this year’s freshmen –– is the first group that must pass the WASL to earn their diploma.

Statewide, less than 39 percent of last year’s sophomores met Washington’s standards in three of the four areas of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

In the Federal Way Public Schools system, slightly more than 38 percent of sophomores met the standard in three sections.

“There is a sense of urgency from everybody because 2008 is just around the corner,” Priest said.

He said Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson and Washington Roundtable, a non-profit organization of 40 heads of companies, are behind the bill.

Bergeson thinks Priest’s bill is an “intriguing idea,” said her spokeswoman, Kim Schmanke.

Last year’s legislative session passed HB 2195, giving the state superintendent flexibility to determine whether students had met the state’s education requirements. That included allowing multiple retakes of the WASL and equivalent options to the exam. Schmanke said this year’s bill could be one of those options, but Bergeson wants to make sure professional programs mesh with the state’s requirements.

If those programs exist and students passed them, the state would consider their educational preparation equal to that of students who passed the WASL.

“There is no second-class status,” Priest said.

As for a dollar amount on the program, Priest wasn’t sure.

Going with the technical program wouldn’t give the students a bye on the state exam. They would have to take it at least once.

Federal Way schools superintendent Tom Murphy and other district officials testified before the House Education Committee Monday at the state capitol in favor of the bill.

Charles Hoff, a Federal Way School Board member, has been an advocate of alternatives to the WASL and college preparation. While a critic of the education system’s preparation of students for higher academia, Hoff has also taken shots at the system and what he perceives as a lack of training for non-college bound students.

Whether going to a four-year institution or entering an electrician’s apprenticeship, students must be “prepared for the next step,” Hoff said.

He said he supports Priest’s legislation as long as school districts aren’t the ones calling the shots on the programs. Trade organizations and professional groups need to have a strong influence on how these school programs are developed, Hoff said.

In Federal Way, Decatur High School has an automotive technicians program preparing students to become mechanics when they graduate. Thomas Jefferson High has a new four-year construction course. Both are heavily influenced by professional organizations such as National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation and United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

There could be another challenge to Priest’s bill: President Bush’s proposed cutting of the federal Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act –– which means about $1.3 billion to schools nationally –– and directing those dollars to expanding the federal No Child Left Behind Act into high schools.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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