No pass, no graduation

There are no more makeup tests.

High school sophomores, who need to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) in order to graduate, will not have the chance to make up the test until August, school officials told parents gathered for an informational meeting Monday night at Mountain View Middle School.

That is probably the biggest change to this year’s test which is slated for March 13-16 for 10th-graders in reading and writing and April 18-21 for math and science.

Additionally, the number of students taking the test is increasing. Third through eighth graders will be tested in reading and math this year, with fourth and seventh-graders taking the writing test and fifth and eighth-graders tested in science.

Not every student will pass the test, school officials realize, and systems are in place to help them succeed when they try again. High schoolers get five shots at the WASL requirement for graduation.

Ray Rogers, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which cosponsored the event talked about a mentoring program of which he is a part and encouraged parents and students to look into the program for help and support.

“We have people who are volunteering to work with the youth that need mentoring,” Rogers said. “We are forming a partnership with the parents and the schools ... and helping tutor students.”

Bob Hamilton, director of assessment and special services for the Bremerton School District, spoke of the driving forces that put the WASL into place.

“The private business sector combined with the Legislature to push for the WASL because of spending thousands of dollars on remedial class for a workforce without 10th grade skills,” Hamilton said.

Secondary school administrators shared their efforts to help students with the standardized test.

“We have WASL Wednesdays, the shortened days (where) we spend time doing the practice test ... which studies have shown help ... (students) do better,” said Jerry Willson, principal of Mountain View Middle School. “We have met with parents to set up a special plan to ensure they will be successful the next time they take the test in 10th grade (when students do not pass it in middle school).”

“I know it’s causing a lot of anxiety,” said Bremerton High School principal Aaron Leavell. “Especially since it’s being used as a graduation requirement for the first time.”

Each of the schools have WASL preparation clubs after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Hamilton addressed what takes place when students do not pass in five tries, an appeals process for students with test-anxiety problems and the opportunity to show through a portfolio of grade-point averageW and coursework that a student has met the standards.

Pat Herzig, a teacher on special assignment, helped break down what the test is after.

“Probability and statistics (are) huge in this assessment,” Herzig said. “It’s part of critical thinking. As young as kindergarten, kids are doing algebra. When your kindergartner brings home squares and circles ... they are starting to learn how algebra and geometry connect.”

Parents got the opportunity to take a hack at several test questions from the seventh-grade version of the test. They did so with moderate success. Most could get the right answer but the struggles came with explaining how, part of the WASL’s aim to test for understanding the problem and strategizing in addition to a correct answer.

Olga Grindstaff, the mother of a 15-year-old, was glad she attended the event.

“I think it was informative. My daughter is going to be taking it for the first time,” Grindstaff said. “I didn’t realize the tests were untimed. That’s a good thing because I can see, where for some kids, it’s confusing. It’s reassuring but a bit scary, too.”

Mary Bolds had mixed feelings, feeling the forum was informative but concerned the teaching and testing is too geared toward students finding employment and not entrepreneurial.

“Overall, the information they put out there is good,” Bolds said. “One question I didn’t ask though ... do they teach the kids to be self-employed to start their own business?”

The assessment has been moved to earlier in the year, meaning there will be another added feature. Scores will arrive before the end of the school year, meaning parents and students will know sooner what areas children need to work on.

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