Sandra Wassilie - School Board Seat C

Posted: Friday, September 21, 2001

Alaska is rapidly moving toward a standards-based education system that includes assessment through the Benchmark Exami-nations and the High School Graduation Qualifying Examination (HSGQE). If we are not careful, we run the risk of gearing all our instruction to the level of passing scores indicated on these examinations. We run the risk of overlooking more powerful gauges of student growth and performance. As one curriculum parable runs, we may end up trying to make rabbits fly and fish climb, while nobody develops his or her unique talents.

First, I am for using standards. The state of Alaska has established performance standards in reading, writing and math, forming the basis for the Benchmark and HSGQE tests. When described at age appropriate levels through the curriculum, these standards, along with content and cultural standards, are a great medium for communicating to students, parents and the public: this is what we expect children to know and do at this level.

Second, I like using criterion-referenced tests such as the Benchmark tests. Results indicate whether interventions with different instructional methods or programs are necessary. Nevertheless, these indicators do not tell the whole story of how well the student uses his or her skills in daily life nor do they reflect what a student really knows.

Consequently, I am concerned about using tests results from the HSGQE to determine a student's graduation status and unwittingly short circuit their academic growth. Test scores do not measure significant accomplishments. As a result of a single inspirational story, a reluctant reader may start using the library. Yet another may win honors for a science fair project that accurately models a natural event. A student may write brilliant poetry yet flounder under the stress of writing an essay as a test. Are these students failures if they do not pass the HSGQE?

Age: 54

Occupation: Writer, educator

Family: children, Leo-nardo and Carl

Residency in Alaska: Since 1947; lived out of state 1967-1971

Education: U. Washington, B.S. zoology; Alaska Pacific University, M.A.T, adult and community ed.

Political and government experience: Seward Planning and Zoning Advisory Commis-sion, 1982-1988 (vice chair 84-88); Seward Parent Advisory Committee, 1986-1991, member, secretary and president

Business and professional positions: High Tide Writing, owner; Alaska Adult Education Association, incorporator, past board member and president twice, member; Association American Adult and Continuing Ed., World Future Society

Service organization memberships: Seward Chamber of Commerce

Furthermore, the passing scores on these tests are at the proficiency level. I am already hearing students who pass the HSGQE as a sophomore or junior cop an attitude of coasting through their remaining years since they feel they have cleared the essential hurtle toward graduation. These are the type of students who can do so much more to be prepared to enter college, vocational/technical training, or the military at an advanced level.

However, I fear our precious resources will be directed toward helping the students who struggle with either written verbal or math tasks yet who probably have amazing talents and intelligence in other arenas that will not be developed, such as in drama, video production, or mechanics. These kind of expressive and practical arts can be just the kind of intervention that helps some students master the more academic of skills. The district was already developing the Certified Diploma Program when the state began to consider mandatory testing.

When we use standards achievable though multiple avenues to help a student develop their capabilities, then they facilitate rather than hinder. This is the best way to make the standards work for our students.

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