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Monday, April 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:05 PM

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WASL deadline for math delayed to 2013

Seattle Times staff reporters

OLYMPIA -- Students won't have to pass the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in order to graduate until 2013.

That's the bottom line of a messy deal reached Sunday in the Legislature shortly before lawmakers adjourned for the year.

The agreement, passed by the House and Senate, also pushes back the deadline for passing the science WASL to 2013.

The bill has a provision that would allow the state Board of Education to set an earlier date for either test.

Legislative leaders spent their final days in Olympia battling over the issue, which at times threatened to drag lawmakers into a special session.

Key Democrats wanted to delay the reading and writing portions of the test as well as math and science, but Gov. Christine Gregoire balked at that.

In the end, the governor won. Legislators passed a bill that delayed only the math and science portions of the test. Students in the class of 2008 would still have to pass the reading and writing portions.

Lawmakers also included other provisions, such as an expanded appeals process for students who fail one or more sections of the test.

Marty Brown, Gregoire's legislative liaison, said that although the governor supports the delay for the math and science requirement, it's not clear what other parts of the bill she might keep or veto.

Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he hopes the governor "will honor the majority of what's in the bill. I fully understand her veto pen might be there, but we would hope she'd honor the work that we've done."

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The WASL debate was the last major fight of the session and one of only a handful of cases this year where infighting by Democrats spilled into public view.

Lawmakers quickly regrouped Sunday after passing the WASL bill and pushed through a $33.4 billion, two-year state budget that boosts spending by $4 billion over the last biennium. They also approved a capital budget.

In addition, they approved a controversial bill to set up a new state-run program that, in 2009, will offer parents up to five weeks of paid leave to bond with newborn or newly adopted children.

A new task force of lawmakers, business representatives and others would study how to finance the program, then report to the Legislature by Jan. 1.

Democrats, with their near-record majorities in the House and Senate, were able to push through most of what they wanted this year, including extending rights to gay and lesbian couples, expanding health-care access for children from needy families, and sending a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would allow school districts to pass property-tax levies with a simple majority vote of the public, instead of 60 percent.

"We delivered exactly what the people of Washington state wanted," Gregoire said late Sunday, summing up the session.

The last-minute WASL fight was a bit of a surprise. While there's long been talk of delaying the reading and writing portions of the test, advocates waited until the last days of the session to make a strong push.

Students in the class of 2008 were supposed to be the first group required to pass reading, writing and math on the WASL (or an approved alternative) to graduate.

Students in the class of 2010 were supposed to pass the science portion of the test as well.

To date, nearly 85 percent of them have passed the reading section of the exam, and about the same in writing.

It's a different story in math and science, with just 56 percent passing math and 38 percent passing science. And that doesn't include about 3,500 students who had not yet taken the test as of this school year.

Gregoire, along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, had pushed for a delay in math. But both were strongly opposed to delaying the year in which students must pass the reading and writing sections of the exam.

Many Democratic lawmakers wanted to delay reading and writing. School districts with large numbers of low-income children and students who speak English as a second language asked for the delay.

Lawmakers also pushed for other changes, such as an expanded appeals process for students who fail one or more sections of the test.

Gregoire repeatedly told them she wanted to delay only the math and science requirement.

The WASL bill does that, but it also includes those other provisions. It also requires the state Board of Education to study the prospect of replacing the math and science WASL tests with end-of-course assessments.

Quall said if the governor vetoes major parts of the bill "then there's next session."

Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable, an association of corporate executives, said the bill has too long of a delay for the math and science WASL requirements. "We'll be urging a full veto," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or agarber@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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