News

Pretty special WASL results

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

While the Federal Way school district has made steady gains in the last few years in the WASL, it has yet to reach government’s “adequate yearly progress” status.

But one group of students and one school has made impressive gains. Last spring, 85 percent of Woodmont Elementary’s fourth-grade special education students passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). In reading, 89.9 percent of the special-ed students passed. In math, 84.2 percent passed, and in both writing and listening, 57.9 percent passed.

Special-ed students are one of the nine subgroups which must meet adequate yearly progress levels under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

In the Federal Way school system last year, two of the student groups that fell short of adequate yearly progress status included:

• All grades of special education students in the reading section of the WASL.

• And seventh and 10th-grade special-ed pupils in the math portion of the test.

That makes Woodmont’s fourth-grade special-ed progress all the more impressive, officials say.

How did it happen?

Woodmont begins preparing students for the spring WASL soon after the school year begins.

“Two years ago, we started to become a lot more proactive at it,” said principal Donna Bogle.

The school began to train students in WASL preparation soon into the new school year, using sample WASL questions as guidelines.

Woodmont monitors WASL preparation progress with bimonthly staff meetings.

“It was a teamwork issue. Everybody in the building worked together,” Bogle said.

“Teamwork is just so important. Curriculum is very important,” said Gil Simmons, dean of students. “The staff has to all be in unison if they want to raise the standards across the boards.”

Bogle said Woodmont “mapped our year out, and we figured out what we needed to have our students know.” By the end of the first school week in the 2001-02 school year, the staff knew which students needed extra support, she said.

In order to meet the special-ed students’ needs, the Woodmont staff consulted with Federal Way Public Schools assistant superintendent Carol Matsui and district curriculum director Mark Jewell for advice. Jewell developed a teaching resource called “Adaptations are Essential” that is funded through the state superintendent of public instruction.

Jewell said a major challenge for special-ed students is struggling with reading — and that is where resources such as “Adaptations are Essential” come in.

The guides help educators who work with students who have mild disabilities, describing ways for educators to match students’ individualized education programs with the state’s learning requirements..

In addition to regular homeroom classes, the special-ed students also received supplemental instruction from Elizabeth Burnett, Woodmont’s special-ed teacher. Students received from one to several hours of this instruction each week, depending on individual needs.

In addition, an AmeriCorps member tutored students four days a week.

Woodmont “loops” teachers, meaning the same educators who teach third grade this year will teach fourth grade next year in order to continue with the same students. Once the school year is over, the fourth-grade instructors teach third the following year.

“I think as long as we work together, (the success for special-ed students) can continue,” Simmons said.

“We’re going to work really hard to make sure every one of our students do well,” Bogle said “We’re hopeful that with our teamwork and the support we get from the district office, we’re going to be able to continue to do a good job.”

Christopher Willis, the district’s co-director of student support services, said the state and federal governments classify special education students under 14 guidelines. These include developmental delays, emotional and behavioral disabilities, orthopedic impairment, health impairment, specific learning disabilities, mental challenges, multiple disabilities, deafness, hearing impairment, visual impairment, deaf-blindness, communication disorders, autism and traumatic brain injury.

If a school’s Individual Education Program Team (IEPT) — made up of a school psychologist, occupational therapist and a speech and language pathologist — determine that a student has a disability which adversely impacts education, the district must develop an individualized learning program for that student, Willis explained.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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