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By MARCIE MILLER
While students across the state began bearing down on their number two pencils this week, seventh grade students are feeling extra pressure as the WASL, Washington Assessment of Student Learning, begins.
This class of 2008 is being targeted as the first class that will have to pass the state-mandated test in 10th grade in order to graduate.
By 2006 these students are expected to meet state standards in reading, writing, math and listening. Science requirements will be added for the graduating class of 2010.
While three years is a long time in the life of a seventh grader, for some it is not too soon to start worrying.
At Coupeville Middle School, Pat Wallers Language Arts students spoke candidly about the test.
I think teachers push the test and that makes it stressful, Page Mueller said.
She felt there will be a lot to learn over the next few years in preparation for the pivotal test. On the bright side, she had heard the 10th grade test is not as hard as the one she was about to take.
Laura Millhouse was slightly stressed about the test.
It depends on how well you pay attention during the year, she said.
She was worried that not doing well on the test would affect advancing to eighth grade.
Waller was quick to put those fears to rest, reminding the class that the test is used for testing their learning, and for testing if the teachers are doing a good job. It would in no way affect whether or not they went on to the next grade.
Matt Scott had a more laissez faire attitude. He had a good breakfast and was not concerned about the test because it was not a pass or fail situation.
Its no big deal, he said.
Mastery required by 2008
It will be a bigger deal by the time this class reaches 10th grade, but even then there are mitigating factors. While the state plans on requiring that every student achieve the Certificate of Mastery in order to graduate, it will not be a one shot deal. Students will be able receive tutoring and retake the test multiple times. They will also still have to meet other graduation requirements set by the schools.
While no student will be exempted from the test, alternative test formats will also be available for students with learning disabilities or special needs.
Andi if a student still doesnt master the test?
Were still trying to hammer out the details, Charisse Berner, Oak Harbor curriculum director, said. There may be a small group who dont pass.
The state and school districts have not yet decided what will happen to students who cant pass the test in spite of multiple attempts. The State Board of Education will decide by next year whether or not to hold firm on 2008 as the first Certificate of Mastery graduation class.
The state board feels the certificate is a more uniform measure of proficiency in state standards, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, than any other graduation requirement.
A uniform exam based on world-class standards of skills and knowledge gives every student a better education and combats the inconsistency in local standards, the board reports.
The WASL is taken by all fourth, seventh and tenth grade students for testing reading, listening, writing and math skills. Starting last year the state added voluntary science WASL for grades eight and 10. Both Oak Harbor and Coupeville school districts are appying the science test. Fifth grade students will take a pilot version of the science test, but Berner said the science test will not be graded or included in the official WASL results.
This is a test of of the test, she said.
Curriculm designed to reflect test
While critics of the WASL question whether it is a good idea to teach to the test, building curriculm around the expectations of the test, both Berner and Coupeville Superintendent Bill Myhr say teaching to the test is good thing.
We are 100 percent focused on state standards, Berner said. There is nothing on the test that we dont expect kids to know and be able to do. If our teachers are teaching to the test, thats excellent.
Myhr, in his first year at Coupeville, said the district has some catching up to do on their test scores, and orienting teaching material to the test is not a bad thing.
We want to teach to the (state) essential standards so all kids reach the same level, he said.
Myhr stressed the test does not compare students to each other, but rather to the state standards, which are set by the Board of Education.
While Wallers class felt some apprehension about the test, they also felt prepared. They had been doing WASL practice sheets for months, and class writing projects were designed to resemble what they would see on the WASL.
The test replicates what they have to do anyway, Waller said. We have worked it into the curruculm.
Student Steven McDonald has an idea for relieving some of the WASL stress.
I think we should take the test for three hours and then go home.
Instead, WASL testing will continue several times a week for the next two weeks.
You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 675-6611