News

Round 2 of the WASL

The Mirror

Next week is Part II for high school students in Federal Way taking the state Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), and this time passing it means graduating for sophomores.

“I’m nervous for the math because I struggle with math,” said Mallory Murray, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Mostly sophomores will take the math and science portions of the test. There are a small number of freshmen and a few juniors taking it.

Teachers and students have spent the past year working on test strategies and going over examples of test questions on the subjects. Sophomores and freshmen who don’t pass three sections –– reading, writing and mathematics –– will have four other opportunities to take it.

Murray’s teacher gave her a big packet of math work before spring break started April 10, but told her not to start reviewing until Saturday so she could have some time to relax.

Murray, who is one example of high school sophomores in Federal Way, has a 3.3 grade point average and is in the district’s AVID program to prepare her for college. She has been getting extra help with math during the school year because she didn’t pass the math portion as a seventh-grader.

Federal Way Public Schools converted its summer school program to help students who struggle with the WASL.

Murray and Cassidy Robey, another Jefferson sophomore, said they and their friends don’t think the test should be a graduation requirement.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Robey said of the test. The reading and writing portions that she took in March were “a breeze” and she doesn’t anticipate the math being difficult, she added.

But Robey, who hopes to become an engineer and has a 3.3 grade point average, said alternatives to the WASL are good.

“I think that’s better for kids who don’t take tests well,” she said.

Across the state, students, teachers, administrators, parents and politicians have worried about the test, especially since the class of 2008 must pass it to eventually graduate. Some critics have said the exam has become a “high-stakes test” that will result in high school students dropping out of school if they don’t pass the exam. During this year’s session of the Legislature, several bills were introduced to stop it from being a graduation requirement.

In January, Federal Way schools superintendent Tom Murphy predicted to an audience in his annual State of the Schools that 700 sophomores in the district wouldn’t pass the WASL the first time.

More than 42 percent of last year’s sophomores statewide who took the test failed in the three sections required this year to graduate. The Legislature passed a bill that would give school districts more money for summer school to help students at all grade levels struggling to pass the test. Since then, legislation has passed allowing students other ways to show they earned their diplomas. Among the alternatives is a portfolio of their work and comparing their grades to peers who passed the state test.

State Rep. Skip Priest of Federal Way sponsored legislation allowing students to take courses in technical fields, such as automotive maintenance and building trades, that will serve as an alternative to the WASL.

During an assembly at Jefferson April 7, educators and district officials encouraged the sophomores to return from their spring break and do well on the second part of the WASL. For having the highest participation in the first part, the students were awarded with ice cream bars and t-shirts emblazoned with “I’m a WASL winner.”

“It’s all about you. Make it happen,” said Diane Turner, head of community relations for the district.

Staff photographer Fumiko Yarita contributed to this report.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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