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The WASL: To fear or not to fear?

POULSBO — High school students are often faced with many challenges in the years leading up to graduation.

Starting with the class of 2008, they’ll have one more.

This school year, students in Washington state will be required to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test in order to graduate.

The state’s means for assessing the progress and abilities of Washington students in the core subjects of learning: English, math and science is annually administered to fourth, seventh and 10th graders. But this year, the test takes on an imminent mystique for sophomores as it becomes another hill to climb in the passage of graduation.

A hill that is not impossible but difficult to traverse.

Last year, 10th grade students statewide did not excel on the WASL. The highest number came in the reading portion of the test in which 72.9 percent of students met the standard. The lowest count came in science with only 35.8 percent of students passing. In mathematics, 47.5 percent of the student base met the standard, and in writing, 65.2 percent made the cut.

Those numbers suggest that if the test had been a requirement as of last year, more than half of the sophomores (now juniors) in Washington’s schools would be in jeopardy of not graduating.

With that in mind, the state has created the opportunity for students to retake the test up to four times in order to meet the standard before graduation.

State Supt. Terry Bergeson is also seeking $42 million as part of the 2006 budget package to go toward voluntary summer school and extended learning opportunities for students who may fall short, according to her State of Education speech Nov. 17.

That plan is already in action here, said North Kitsap School District Supt. Gene Medina, who noted that preparation is definitely key. Medina said the district has already been planning to expand its summer school offerings to allow more time to focus on the WASL.

“For some of these kids, the WASL is the first time they have ever been exposed to that (type of test),” said NKSD assistant director of learning and support Dixie Huesser. “It’s daunting and little bit scary.”

But systems are in place at NKHS to alleviate the fear.

NK teachers are being trained on exactly how the test is being scored, so they can better prepare students on how to attack it, Huesser said.

The state has also provided the district with out-of-use test questions and resources, which they can then use to help students formulate strategies for the test’s format.

“I think there is always room for improvement and it is individually based,” Huesser said.

An individualized program at NKHS, called FOCUS, is also available for students who are having trouble with specific core subjects, said Huesser. The program takes students — by teacher designation — from the course in which they are struggling and offers more individualized efforts to help in developing those skills.

The school’s student support center is also open to all students at NKHS for individualized improvement.

“All of these pieces are coming together, and I truly believe that the WASL will not be a hindrance for graduation,” Huesser said of the challenge.

“I think more kids will pass when they get the message that they have to,” Medina said of the apparent urgency.

Nonetheless, the stipend in place for graduation should likely create more incentive for students in comparison to years past when the test, for them, little to no weight.

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