Changes await students, teachers as they return to school
Now that teachers and students have returned to classes, this is a good time to discuss changes in Washington's schools and colleges.
For the first time in 12 years, students will no longer be required to take the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning). Now kids (and teachers), before you celebrate this controversial test's demise, you're not entirely off the hook. The WASL is being replaced by two new tests: the Measurements of Student Progress for grades three through eight, and the High School Proficiency Exam.
I've been concerned how our state's education system has drifted away from the fundamentals that would help young people become successful. Instead, the focus has been on ensuring students pass a complex WASL exam that placed greater emphasis on how an answer was achieved rather than the correct answer.
The new tests, which will still be given in reading, math, writing and science, are shorter and provide multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank answers while eliminating long-answer essay questions. Computerized testing will be phased in, beginning with middle schools this year, and entirely online by 2014. Assessments will last only four to five days, instead of eight.
While it remains to be seen whether these exams will be an improvement over the WASL, it does seem to set our state on a better course back to the basics.
Advanced notice for college materials
If you are a college student or have kids in college, you know books are expensive. You also know books ordered online may be found at a discount. However, online ordering has been risky, because there's not enough time to get the materials delivered, especially when the college gives short notice on book requirements.
This year, the Legislature approved House Bill 1025, which requires college- and university-affiliated bookstores to provide a four-week advance notification of course material requirements. This should provide college students enough time to find and order their books at more affordable prices.
Sales tax holiday for school clothes?
Here's an idea I am contemplating — and I would appreciate your input. One of the largest costs for families is children's back-to-school clothes. That cost is escalated when you pay sales tax. How about a sales tax holiday for school clothes? Eleven states have enacted legislation to provide a temporary sales tax exemption on back-to-school products, including children's clothes, as a way to make these essentials more affordable for families. Legislation was proposed in the Washington Legislature in 2001, but did not pass. With families struggling in this recession, maybe it's time to reconsider that measure.
School zone safety
Finally, please remember the speed limit in school zones is 20 miles per hour. Many children are now walking to school and to their bus stops. A child has an 80 percent chance of surviving if struck by a car going 20 miles per hour or less, versus an 80 percent chance of being killed if struck by a vehicle going faster. A ticket in a school zone could cost you as much as $784. Please obey the traffic laws. Our children's safety depends on each of us being responsible and alert.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.