No more time for students to waffle on the WASL

Eat a hearty breakfast. Get plenty of sleep. Relax.

North Kitsap’s students, in grades third through 11th, have been greeted with such advice as they headed into the year’s most prolific week of testing April 18.

Though this year’s 10th grade high school students are still not required to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), it will appear on their high school transcripts.

The exam is also on its final trial run, as next year’s ninth graders will be the first class that will have to pass the WASL sections of reading, writing and math in order to graduate. As the pressure to pass a standardized test to graduate high school mounts, so does each educator’s push to ensure students will be ready to pass.

But the WASL routine is also a decade old, and area schools appear to be getting acclimatized to high stakes testing.

“The school atmosphere is really positive, and part of that is due to the attitude,” said Bill Breakey, Kingston Junior High School assistant principal. “Everybody on the staff knows how to do this and that helps talking out the stress.”

“It pretty much runs like clockwork,” added Tony Bainbridge, principal of Poulsbo Junior High School. “The staff has really bought into the process ... the teachers really work at creating ways so the students don’t feel over-stressed but encouraged.”

The junior high level endures perhaps the most intense amount of testing, with virtually every student involved in taking exams.

“Every kid in the school is taking a test today,” said Catherine Campbell, teacher and test coordinator at PJH. “From the perspective of arranging it, it’s sort of like juggling and having all the balls in the air at the same time.”

While seventh graders take the WASL, eighth graders are taking the science WASL, though it won’t be required until the class of 2010. Ninth graders are taking the Iowa Test of Educational Development, given in the state since 2000. The state Superintendent of Public Instruction is considering canceling the test because it overlaps the WASL.

In high school, 10th graders are in the final class that will not have to pass the reading, writing and math sections to graduate. Nonetheless, NKHS Assistant Principal Christy Cole said sophomores are emphasizing the exam more than any previous class.

“The kids seem to be taking it much more seriously than ever before,” she said. “It’s something that’s more accepted now.”

Students who do not pass will have an opportunity to retake the exam during their junior year. Cole estimated about 40 juniors are doing so to pass or improve scores that appear on their college transcripts.

Special emphasis has been placed on math at NKHS, Cole commented, as 46.7 percent of students passed that particular test, whereas 68.8 percent and 62.6 percent of students passed the reading and writing exams, respectively a year ago at the 10th grade level.

In North’s seven elementary schools, WASL testing at the fourth grade level is combined with science WASL testing in fifth grade. Third and sixth graders are taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Like the junior highs and high schools, the elementaries are also benefiting from proactive test coordination and preparation.

“They’ve been doing really well,” said Jackie Grable, learning specialist and test coordinator at Gordon Elementary School. “The teachers have prepared the students well. We just want to make sure the students are relaxed and ready for it.”

One of the ways many North Kitsap schools have been helping the students ease into the test is providing morning snacks prior to exam time. At Gordon, that strategy is certainly energizing the students.

“They’ve been saying, ‘If we can have snacks everyday, then we want to have a WASL everyday, too,’” Grable.

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