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Math WASL fades away

The standardized math test many Whidbey Island high school students struggle to pass will be phased out in six years.

Legislation recently approved by the state will eliminate the high school math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in 2014. In its place will be end-of-year tests highschoolers will have to pass when they complete Algebra I and Geometry or Integrated Math I and II.

“I think this is symbolic that the WASL as a one-time, high-stakes test isn’t working,” said Oak Harbor School District Superintendent Rick Schulte. He equated the assessment to a Rube Goldberg machine that’s basically ineffective and inefficient.

Even though the math assessment will be phased out as a graduation requirement for sophomores, students in grades three through eight will continue taking the math assessment.

The math WASL is a test students have always had difficulty passing. Statewide, only 50.4 percent of sophomores passed the challenge in 2007. Locally, 47.9 percent of the sophomores in Coupeville and 51.5 percent of the sophomores in Oak Harbor passed the math assessment.

The low success rate prompted the Legislature to tweak graduation requirements last year. Students currently have to either pass the WASL, keep taking and passing math classes, or present a collection of evidence proving they meet standards.

Coupeville School District Superintendent Patty Page said she is reserving judgement on the change until the new exams are developed. She said the focus should remain on teaching.

“If we are doing our job well, then the test will be a secondary issue,” Page said. She added that it’s important teachers receive the necessary support and guidance from the state about the changes in math.

Schulte too, is waiting to see what the new test is like before passing judgement. He has a lot of questions that need to be answered. Those range from whether the new exam meets No Child Left Behind regulations to what happens to students who earn an A or a B in class but fail the exam. He was appreciative of the time built into the legislation to allow working out many of those details.

Eliminating the WASL requirement comes as the state is changing math requirements. Most notably students will have to take a third credit of math in order to graduate.

Even though the WASL change is years away, it could put more pressure on teachers, Page said. Teachers will have several different standards to consider: the current standard, which students have to learn in order to pass the Math WASL; preparation for new math requirements that comes from the state; and how the end-of-year exams will affect instruction.

“That will always raise anxiety,” Page said of the various math requirements.

There have been a series of changes concerning the Math WASL. Until last year, students in the class of 2008 were expected to pass the math assessment in addition to the reading and writing assessments to graduate. That changed last year. Then, in 2013, students can have the option of taking the end-of-year test instead of passing the math assessment, or present the collection of evidence. Then, the following year, the math assessment of the WASL ends.

Page said that the math goal has become a moving target one constant is that it’s always important that teachers focus on teaching and learning.

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