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Time for WASL testing

Like it or not, fourth, seventh and 10th-grade students in Federal Way and statewide have begun taking this year's Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

WASL, as the controversial exam is known to its friends and foes, is a series of tests that focus on basic skills and complex thinking in reading, writing, listening, and mathematics. It’s one of several methods for educators of evaluating student learning. Other forms include additional assessments and tests, grades and homework.

Now in its sixth year, WASL is the most-debated measuring stick. Most recently, its opponents have been collecting signatures for a proposed initiative that, if passed, would require candidates for state and local office statewide to take the sophomore-level WASL. The initiative backers claim there is too much emphasis on WASL, which 10th-graders must pass in order to graduate from high school. The WASL critics insist that no single form of assessing students’ learning should carry so much weight.

But staunch supporters of WASL say it’s a good way to ensure that all students are learning at sufficiently high standards, and that the public education in Washington is improving. The latter was the goal of reform-minded educators when research that led to WASL began nine years ago.

Federal Way district officials say WASL was designed to provide a more complete picture of what students know and can do academically. It asks students not only to choose the right answers, but also to explain how they got their answers. It measures their ability to apply their knowledge to solve complicated problems that reflect real-world situations, according to officials.

Students started yesterday on this year’s WASL, which also is something of an endurance test. The exam will continue until May 9 for approximately 50 to 105 minutes each day.

For the best results, students should go to school well-rested and well-fed so that they can fully concentrate, school district officials advised. They also said doctor appointments and other absences or tardiness should be avoided while the testing is underway.

Last year’s WASL performance by then-fourth, seventh and 10th-graders was encouraging to school officials. In the reading section, tenth-graders had the greatest gains in the district. Nearly: 66 percent of them passed, up from 56.4 percent in 2000, and 46.6 percent in 1999. Federal Way had the highest scores of the district’s four high schools, with 73.7 percent of the test-takers reaching the state standard in reading.

The sophomores also improved in the writing section, with 58.6 percent meeting the state standard, compared with 35.5 percent the year before. In the math section, though, scores remained relatively flat at about 36 percent.

Strong teaching in the junior highs is “paying off for us tremendously,” said Federal Way High assistant principal Sharlene Bathum. She also credited her school’s instructors for their adherence to district reading policies and “getting kids to take the test seriously.”

Parents helped by encouraging their children to study, she added.

Federal Way schools are focusing on more individualized attention for poor readers, said Mark Jewell, the district’s chief academic officer.

Last year’s WASL results “give us the information we need” to help students who need it,” he said.

District officials cited other results from last year’s WASL:

l Eleven elementary schools (Brigadoon, Camelot, Lakeland, Mark Twain, Meredith Hill, Mirror Lake, Nautilus, Rainier View, Sunnycrest, Twin Lakes and Wildwood) had a higher number of students meeting the state standard in reading than in 2000. Brigadoon had the highest fourth-grade scores for reading, with 81.5 percent of its students passing that section. The district-wide reading average, however, was approximately the same as the previous year’s, with 66.4 percent passing. In math, 66.6 percent passed district-wide, and most schools exceeded their goal scores.

l At the seventh-grade level, the percentage of passing scores in reading went up slightly to 40.7 percent. District-wide math, writing and listening scores were also similar to the previous year’s. But junior highs are making progress in reading and writing, as indicated by the highest-ever 10th grade scores, according to school administrators.Beginning in 2006, the state will require sophomores students statewide to pass all sections of the WASL in order to graduate in 2008. The district is paying the most attention to reading, but changes to high school math requirements are being considered. Soon, all high school students may be required to take and pass Algebra 1 in addition to other current math requirements to graduate.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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