WASL math graduation requirement to be abandoned

Nearly all Island 10th- graders passed

the test in 2007

Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

State Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation last week that will phase out the math section of the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) by 2014. Instead, students will be required to pass two math tests at the end of their algebra and geometry classes.

Gregoire inked the bill on March 26, citing poor WASL math scores and doubt over the test’s ability to measure math comprehension as her motivation: Approximately 50 percent of Washington students in the class of 2008 failed the math portion of the WASL.

President of the Washington Education Association Mary Lindquist supported the move, calling it a “step in the right direction.” However, she emphasized that the state still has a long way to go in improving math education.

“I’m concerned that [the proposed algebra and geometry exams] are still high-stakes tests, spread out over two years,” the WEA president said. “I think the state is still missing the boat. We still need more funding to lower class sizes so that struggling kids can get the individual attention they need to be successful.”

Another benefit to eliminating the math portion of the WASL, said Lindquist, is that it will allow for more instructional time.

“I was always distressed by how much time was given over to that testing. The whole school went into a special schedule” said Lindquist, who formerly led the Mercer Island Education Association. “[Eliminating the math WASL] will be less disruptive to the school system and provide us with more instructional time.”

The WASL was introduced to public schools nine years ago to measures a student’s knowledge of state academic standards. Students are tested each spring in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 in reading and math. They are tested in writing in grades 4, 7 and 10 and science in grades 5, 8 and 10.

As of this year, all Washington state 10th-graders are required to pass the reading and writing sections of the WASL for graduation. The math portion of the test, however, will not be a graduation requirement until 2013.

And thanks to last week’s legislation, high schoolers will now have the choice of taking the WASL math exam or a test at the end of their Algebra I and Geometry I class or Integrated Math I and II, depending on the curriculum. The WASL math exam given to third- and eighth-graders will remain a requirement.

Although the Mercer Island School District boasts an 85-percent passage rate in the 10th-grade math WASL (along with 95 percent for the reading and writing portions), the legislation still comes as welcome news.

MIHS Principal John Harrison, among others, supports Gregoire’s decision.

“I’m a big believer that there are multiple ways for kids to show they meet standards,” Harrison said. “There are kids who have a tough time taking tests — especially high-stakes tests like the WASL. Test-taking is a skill.”

Last year, nine 10th-graders did not pass the math WASL on their first attempt. Five of these students enrolled in a summer school program designed to prepare them for the retake exam in August.

Mercer Island included, education leaders across the state — faced with a faltering mathematics curriculum — are rewriting math standards at each grade level.

“All districts are finding it challenging to get 100 percent of students to standard in mathematics,” said School District Director of Curriculum Patti Weber.

In response, School District administrators have designed a number of special programs to help struggling students, from side-by-side math classes to after school tutoring programs. Gregoire’s move to replace the WASL with an in-class exam that corresponds with each school’s curriculum and tests students accordingly could very well enhance these efforts.

“What’s important to MI is our students’ ability to exceed the state math standards and be prepared to successfully complete higher level math classes at high school and college,” said Weber. “Whether this learning is measured by end-of-year tests or the WASL isn’t the critical issue for us.”

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