While her classmates hunched over tests at desks splayed across the gym floor next door, sophomore Candace Smith was in a classroom learning about probability and statistics.
“I didn’t want to have to try and do all this catch-up,” said Candace, 15, who opted out of WASL testing at Mountlake Terrace High School so she wouldn’t miss four sessions of her math analysis class, an upper-level course typically taken by juniors and seniors.
“It’s OK if I’m there, and she’s teaching me. But I think it’d be way too hard to look at a book and try to do it myself.” Dan Bates / The Herald
Dan Bates / The Herald
Candace’s situation underscores the logistical trouble high schools must go through to accommodate the high-stakes state assessments – particularly this year.
The state requires the 10th grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning reading, math and writing tests be given to all students on the same days at the same times this year. That means even more gerrymandering of schedules than usual.
In the Edmonds School District, it means “arena testing” like that going on in the gym next to Candace’s math class, said Ken Limon, assistant superintendent for secondary education.
Edmonds has juniors and seniors go through their normal schedules. Most Snohomish County high schools have upperclassmen arrive two hours late for the eight days of WASL testing. Typically, those schools then have fewer but longer classes the remainder of the day.
It becomes a balancing act of time, space and staff for schools with a tradeoff between quiet testing conditions for younger students and lost instruction time for older ones.
Edmonds administrators urged schools to give sophomores lighter coursework to make up if they missed class time, Limon said. In the meantime, the district has asked the state to allow future WASL testing during non-school hours – such as Saturdays, between semesters or over the summer.
“At the high school level, scheduling things so that kids can do their best is a challenge,” Limon said. “We’re hoping that through some creative work on the state level we can continue to improve the situation.”
For now, the creativity is up to schools. Some have upperclassmen arrive at regular start time, but participate in non-class activities until sophomores are done with their tests.
Cascade High School has a series of fun-focused classes, such as pickleball and how to cook Italian meatballs.
Snohomish High School has a mix of late arrival days and on-time days with speakers and assemblies covering career and college plans, relationships and sexuality, and motivation and goal-setting.
At Everett High School, administrators are urging juniors and seniors to catch up on missed course work or get a jump on their culminating exhibit projects, required for graduation. There also is open gym time and movies.
Besides the four large high schools in the Edmonds district, Henry M. Jackson High School is holding normal class schedules during WASL testing. Principal Terry Cheshire said they urged teachers who have sophomores in their classes to focus on lighter lessons and not give homework.
Nearly all high schools will have college-level Advanced Placement classes for upperclassmen who are preparing for national exams next month.
The payoff for schools with late-arriving upperclassmen is quiet conditions for sophomores.
At Lakewood High School, 10th graders take their exams with about 14 students per classroom. At the same time, freshmen take nationally standardized tests.
“What we are trying to do is have a real calm testing environment,” Principal Catherine Matthews said.
Some scheduling issues come from a need to free up more teachers on test days. That’s because students aren’t just stuck in a room to take the WASL. State rules require test “proctors,” typically more than one to a room, to hand out booklets, give directions and keep an eye out for cheating.
“So many kids have cell phones now, and many take pictures. So that’s our biggest concern,” said Anne Tompkins, a teacher and proctor at Snohomish High School. She said she hasn’t heard of any instances of cheating there.
“I’m probably the queen of taking (phones) away if I see them,” Tompkins said.
Over the years, Meadowdale High School Principal Norm Hoffman has experienced WASL testing with juniors and seniors on campus and off campus. He prefers having them at school despite the scramble for classroom space.
Hoffman said some sophomores “felt they were being punished” taking tests while other students slept in.
Many school leaders say they will have more academic options for upperclassmen in the next few years as senior project graduation requirements are phased in. Also, many upperclassmen will be retaking portions of the WASL, beginning with the class of 2008, because they will need to pass the exams to graduate.
For now, testing can be particularly challenging in small districts with tiny staffs.
In Darrington, there’s even more juggling. The high school and junior high are on one campus. That means WASL or nationally standardized tests from seventh through 10th grades are being taken in one building.
Juniors and seniors will have three late arrival days.
Principal David Holmer has surveyed other principals.
“Every school is different,” he said. “There is no cookie-cutter approach to do it.’”