STATE senators should pass a mix of education reforms that focus attention and resources on the two biggest needs for Washington schools: helping struggling students and raising high-school graduation rates.
State Sen. Steve Litzow, chairman of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, has laid out a bold template for a public education system more helpful to students and more accountable to parents. Though the Mercer Island Republican refined some of his proposals, he deserves credit for giving a welcome airing to new ideas not even allowed hearings under the previous Democratic chair or in the Democratic-controlled House.
Critical changes spurred by informed policy discussions has improved the legislative landscape. The full Senate is expected to vote on the following bills Wednesday:
Senate Bill 5237 is designed to halt the practice of promoting students who are unable to read proficiently. The bill requires students who fail third-grade reading assessments the choice of repeating the school year or attending summer school before moving to fourth grade. The measure also calls for expanding early learning, acknowledgment that building strong readers by third grade starts in preschool.
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SB 5328 would assign letter grades for schools, an idea continuing to improve with legislative fine-tuning. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee agrees with Litzow that grades for schools are a way parents can hold school districts accountable. The grades would be based on the state’s achievement index, a collection of school-measurement data collected by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
SB 5244 tackles the problem of suspended or expelled students missing critical learning time. The bill requires schools to develop schoolwork plans for suspended students and set a date for their return to school.
SB 5243 requires high schools to automatically enroll students in advanced classes, a proven way of increasing rigor as long as students can get tutoring and other support if needed.
SB 5329 would give OSPI the authority to intervene in persistently low-achieving schools.
Some Senate Democrats may see this collection of bills as too ambitious or even punitive. Some Republican lawmakers may be nervous about wresting back a measure of control from local districts. But Washington is investing billions in the K-12 system; the McCleary ruling calls for spending more. The Senate should target this money toward a system focused on improvement.