Fewer students refusing WASL

With a diploma on the line, far fewer students are refusing to take the WASL – though many are still yelling about it.

Snohomish County led the state last year in the number of sophomores opting out of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, making up 23 percent of the 1,016 teens who opted out of all three subjects, according to a 2005 Herald analysis of scores.

It’s a far different story this year.

Under preliminary figures, refusals appear to be about one-fifth of last year’s counts statewide.

“It’s a sheer drop-off,” said Kim Schmanke, spokeswoman for the state superintendent’s office.

Students must pass the reading, writing and math sections to graduate, starting in 2008.

That put a different spin on the annual exams for this year’s sophomores, who recently got their scores back after taking the battery of tests in March and April.

“When it becomes a graduation requirement, it’s less about civil disobedience and more ‘this is reality,’ ” Schmanke said.

Early figures from a sample of local schools show similar drops.

The Marysville School District led the state last year, with 77 students refusing to take any part of the test and 13 more refusing one or two subjects. This year’s count: eight.

Lake Stevens High School was No. 2 on last year’s list. This year, the school saw two students and their parents fill out formal paperwork to opt out, compared to 54 last year.

Kamiak High School, No. 3 on last year’s list with 19 students opting out of all three tests, had one student refuse the WASL this year.

There’s no indication people are jumping the public school ship to avoid the WASL.

“Usually that’s just one of the issues on the pile, if you will. It hasn’t been the capstone yet,” said Clint Behrends, superintendent of Cedar Park Christian Schools, which has high school campuses in Bothell and Everett.

Regardless, local private school administrators say they rarely accept transfer students the last semester of senior year.

But if more teenagers are bearing with the WASL, not all are grinning.

Jen Foster, 16, passed all three subjects on the first attempt this spring.

As a freshman, Foster published a now-expired Web site against the exam.

“I might have passed, but that doesn’t mean all my friends are going to pass,” said Foster, who will be a junior next fall at Snohomish High School.

Her friend, Ryland Penta, 15, who co-authored last year’s Web site, passed all but the math test, falling shy by 11 points.

“That gets me all twisted up inside, just those little 11 points,” Penta said.

After taking the test at Snohomish High School, Penta moved to Vancouver, Wash., with his family for his dad’s new job. He will take another year of math at his new school before retaking the WASL math test.

Two weeks ago, he marched in an anti-WASL rally in Vancouver.

Erica Hylback, 16, was one of the eight Marysville students to opt out, skipping the reading and writing exams.

“There are so many other requirements for graduation that one test shouldn’t count for everything,” she said.

Hylback said she would have skipped the math one, too – her toughest subject – but didn’t want to be put in an extra math class at Marysville-Pilchuck High School next year as a result.

She passed on the first attempt, just squeaking by.

Hylback said she was surprised by the score. It doesn’t change her mind about skipping the other tests, which she’ll probably take next spring.

“If you’re not ready to do something and it has really high stakes, you shouldn’t have to take it quite yet. Wait until you’re ready.”

Reporter Melissa Slager: 425-339-3465 or mslager@heraldnet.com.

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