Can chess boost WASL scores?


Derek Suelzle, a third-grader at Valhalla Elementary School, is learning the value of thinking ahead.

During a chess game with a classmate in Donna Hoyt’s class last week, Suelzle demonstrated his ability to strategize by predicting his opponent’s moves and planning his responses.

Those are all skills Hoyt and other Valhalla teachers aim to teach as part of the First Move chess program that the school initiated this year for second- and third-grade students.

The vision is for students to increase their math skills while learning life values such as the ability to think ahead, make good choices, strategize and think analytically.

“I think before I act,” Suelzle boasted last week after a peer pointed out that he was winning the game.

Students are learning the basics of chess at a slow, steady pace. They practice one hour per week. So far this year, they have mastered moving the pawns. Last week, they were introduced to the knight pieces. By March, they should be ready to participate in a game with a complete chess set, Hoyt said.

“It is just really cool. They’re loving it,” Hoyt said.

In addition to developing their ability to strategize, students are learning math skills while becoming familiar with horizontal and vertical lines and plotting points.

“Lots of math, that’s what chess is,” Hoyt said. “It’s higher level thinking.”

Like practicing math, playing chess strengthens the brain, Hoyt said.

“Math engages problem solving and it engages critical thinking skills, and so does chess,” she said. “Those are skills you aren’t born with. You have to engage those skills.”

Hoyt hopes that students who participate in the First Move chess program will perform better on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) this year.

“All of the information regarding chess states it helps to increase higher level thinking skills, and those are precisely the skills we want our kids to possess when it comes to passing the test,” she said.

According to America’s Foundation for Chess, the game teaches students abstract thinking, pattern recognition, problem solving, decision making, strategic thinking, thinking ahead, creativity, good sportsmanship, focus and patience, math, reading, history, art and science.

Students at Valhalla are also incorporating their chess lessons into reading and writing exercises.

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565.

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