Third-graders say hello, goodbye to WASL

Naval Avenue Elementary third-grader Anika McCarthy pays attention to her teacher Tuesday as the class learns about time. - Steven DeDual/staff photo
Naval Avenue Elementary third-grader Anika McCarthy pays attention to her teacher Tuesday as the class learns about time.
— image credit: Steven DeDual/staff photo

Students all over the area are preparing for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) again and a new batch of third-graders is preparing for their very first, and very last WASL.

The WASL, which is currently used to gauge the reading, mathematics, science and writing skills of third- to 10th-grade students using multiple-choice, short-answer, essay and problem-solving questions, will be just a historical footnote after this year’s test is complete.

The WASL for children in grades eight and below will be 30 percent shorter this year, according to Chris Barron, spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Naval Avenue Elementary third-grade teacher Heidi Bell explained there were other changes to the test this year as well.

“This year they have reduced the number of open-ended questions,” she said.

The new test, set to begin next year, will be a new computer-based system, according to Bell.

“The new (state) superintendent, Randy Dorn, has decided that he wants to do another form of test on the computer starting next year,” she said.

Although Bell is excited about the new test, she stresses it is an unknown and there are sure to be pros and cons with it as with anything else.

“I really like the WASL,” she said. “I think it is a great test, but I do know it is expensive to administer and correct and what I have heard is that it is going to be a lot less expensive doing it on the computers.”

David St. Clair, the other third-grade teacher at Naval Avenue Elementary, also is a fan of the WASL.

“At the third- and fourth-grade level I think it is a good measurement of what they know how to do,” he said. “I don’t know of a better way they could do it.”

Naval Avenue has seen a great improvement in the number of students meeting math and reading standards over the past few years, according to the OSPI Web site.

In the 2005-06 school year, 55 percent of Naval Avenue students were meeting reading standards and only 50 percent were meeting math standards. Last year, the number of students meeting the reading standard jumped to 73 percent and the number meeting the math standard increased to 75 percent. The numbers are even more positive considering the Bremerton School District averaged only 66 percent of students meeting reading standards and only 67 percent meeting math standards while the state average was 70 percent for reading and 68 percent for math.

Naval Avenue Principal John Welsh attributes this to his teachers.

“We have two of the best third-grade teachers around,” he said.

The biggest issue for Welsh with the new test is fairness as the school lacks the technology that other schools enjoy and many of the students at Naval Avenue are from low-income families.

“Almost 70 percent of our students get free or reduced lunch,” he said. “Many of them don’t already have computers at home.”

While teachers and administrators wait to see what happens next year, the test must still go on this year and the third-graders are prepping hard for next week.

Hunter Short, a student in Bell’s third-grade class, said he has been working hard the last few weeks.

“I’ve been doing a lot of math and reading,” he said. “I’m a little nervous.”

Anika McCarthy, Short’s classmate, said she felt she was ready for the test.

“I don’t like the math, but I am excited,” she said.

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