Focus on the WASL: The Stakes Have Been Raised


Danna Webster, KP News

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Read the first part here.

Every elementary school on the Key Peninsula scored above the state average in reading last year. In 2005, Peninsula School District ranked No. 1 in Pierce County and achieved some of the highest scores in the state on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), a mandatory standardized test assessed at several grade levels. Reading scores in fourth, seventh and 10th grades were 82.9 percent proficient, compared to the state average of 73.8 percent.

This year the focus of the school district must shift from the success of the past to concern for the students who fail any part of the WASL, district officials say. At the high school level, sophomore WASL scores are critical to their graduation in 2008. They have only four opportunities to retake the exam and pass. The first retake is scheduled for Aug. 7-10.

In order to allow time to register for summer school classes, sophomores will receive their WASL scores by June 10 (other students will get their results in late summer). To prepare 10th-graders for their first retake opportunity, PHS summer school will offer classes specifically aimed at WASL testing. Before graduation in 2008, sophomores have four chances to pass: August 2006, spring 2007, August 2007, and spring 2008.

PSD Deputy Superintendent Bob Connelly says the school district is feeling the crunch caused by the narrow window from June 10, when sophomores get their results; the July 5 summer school start-up date; to the August 7 retake. The good news is that the state budgeted $28 million for summer school modules. The district appreciates financial support from the state, according to Connelly.

Another new WASL component for the district to address is the alternative package passed by lawmakers this session. Students failing to pass the WASL twice may satisfy the graduation requirements with an alternative assessment. Some suggested alternatives are: developing a portfolio of student work; meeting the requirements of a grade comparison formula; or choosing to substitute PSAT, SAT or ACT scores.

Connelly says he appreciates the direction state lawmakers took with regard to passing the alternatives options. “I’m very, very pleased that the state has put these alternatives into place. Every student has different learning styles, different strengths,” he says, pointing out, for example, that some students are test phobic.

It is essential that the alternatives “maintain the same level of rigor” as the WASL, and alternatives should “not be an easier path but a different way” of proving achievement, he says. And while Connelly is pleased with the alternatives concept and has no objection to what is happening right now, he hopes there will be some evolution in how alternatives are put into place.

“I wish you didn’t have to fail twice in order to choose it,” he says. “A student should be able to choose it from the outset.”

Connelly knows the focus of media attention on high school diplomas has raised the anxiety on the part of PSD students. He says standards are good and they can show real success but he hopes for a reduction in this annual high anxiety. “I look forward to the day when the WASL becomes another bench mark test without stress to students and families,” he says.