By the Herald editorial staff
We're reminded of that Orwellian euphemism for retreat -- "Advance to the rear."
State schools chief Randy Dorn last week announced a proposal to delay the requirement that students pass math and science exams to graduate from high school.
He's also suggesting a two-tier system for math. Students who don't score high enough to be considered "proficient" could still graduate at a "basic" level of math skills.
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Dorn's proposal sounds like a plan to accept defeat and call it something else.
The Legislature already delayed the math and science requirements two years ago. Now Dorn wants more time. He's asking lawmakers to put off the math requirement until 2015 and science until 2017.
Certainly, no one is happy about the alarming number of high school sophomores who fail the math and science exams.
Only 45 percent of 10th-graders passed the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test. Results on the science test were even more disappointing, with only 39 percent getting a passing score.
New tests will be used next year, a fulfillment of Dorn's campaign promise to overhaul the state's standardized testing system.
According to Dorn, it's unfair to expect students to be ready for new standards and tests so soon after they're implemented.
No doubt the prospect of two-thirds of the state's seniors left out on commencement day sends chills through the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
But even more chilling is the state's reluctance to hold students and teachers accountable for meeting high standards.
Granting diplomas to seniors who haven't acquired the skills needed to lead successful and productive lives isn't fair to anyone -- not to parents, colleges, employers -- and especially not to students.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is opposed to the plan, pointing out that the state's economy depends on a work force skilled in math and science.
The state PTA, the League of Education Voters, the Washington Roundtable and the state Board of Education also came out against the plan.
Bill Williams with the state PTA told KPLU News of Seattle that Dorn's plan "punishes the students because the adults haven't gotten their act together."
Making high-stakes exams part of graduation requirements is risky. Some students who know the material will have a bad day and fail despite their expertise.
But Washington's system minimizes the danger. There are opportunities to take the test several times if needed, and alternatives for proving mastery of a subject are available for students who just don't perform well on tests.
The real danger is in setting the bar too low. We know that students will rise to expectations if they're given the chance.
We've seen it in Kennewick's reading scores. By maintaining high standards and a clear focus, 90 percent of the district's third-graders are reading at or above grade level.
The same thing can be done for math and science, but not by continually delaying expectations and failing to hold schools and teachers accountable.
Our kids don't need the Legislature to make graduation requirements easier but to give them the extra courses, special tutors and other resources needed to meet stringent standards.
Washington's students are capable of excelling in math and science. Let's not underestimate them.