Summer prep for WASL

LAKEWOOD – Many of Hannah Walter’s friends are sleeping in long after she’s at Lakewood High School crunching algebra problems.

It’s her choice to attend monthlong summer school, a decision the 15-year-old hopes will pay off next spring when she and thousands of other high school sophomores take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

The WASL stakes have never been higher. Walter is a member of the class of 2008, the first that must pass reading, math and writing sections of the rigorous exam to graduate.

Michael V. Martina / The Herald

Hannah Walter, a sophomore at Lakewood High School, works on a computerized Washington Assessment of Student Learning prep program during summer break while teacher Eric Carlson helps a student in the background. The incoming sophomore class is the first that must pass the WASL to receive their diplomas.

“I joined this class to prepare me for the WASL and algebra for next year, and it’s helping me so much,” Hannah said.

If WASL history is an indicator, the class of 2008 faces a big challenge. Statewide, as seventh-graders, only 48 percent passed the reading, 37 percent the math and 58 percent the writing portions of the exam.

Tenth-graders have shown continued improvement over the years. Even so, roughly one-third failed the reading and writing exams and more than half the math in 2003-04.

High school summer school has traditionally been a time for students to catch up on credits, but the Lakewood and Lake Stevens school districts tried something different. Their summer schools stressed skills that could ultimately help students pass the WASL.

Many schools will have similar classes during the school year.

It could take several such strategies to get many students into their cap and gown in June 2008.

“We are all going to be pulling out every stop we can to make that a reality,” Lake Stevens Superintendent David Burgess said. “We certainly don’t want to see the kid who would have graduated under the old expectations not be able to graduate.”

Lake Stevens offered a tuition-based WASL preparation summer school for incoming freshmen and sophomores. Besides reading, writing and math, students learned organization and test-taking skills. The students also compiled notebooks with information that will help them when they return to school this fall.

At Lakewood, classes are free, and students can earn academic credit.

Invitations to summer school were sent to roughly 80 percent of Lakewood’s sophomores. They were based on past performance on assessments, including the WASL, and how they fared in the classroom. More than 30 students signed up.

Eric Carlson teaches two of the math courses. He has about 15 students in each class, about half what he might expect during the school year, and spends most of his time trolling the rows answering students’ questions.

Students spend much of their time taking math quizzes on computers rather than from textbooks, but also get WASL-like story problems to solve with paper and pencil.

“It’s really going to fill in the gaps,” Carlson said. “This is a chance to fill in what they missed, whether it’s Pythagorean Theorem or stuff even more basic.”

Although the work is self-paced, the software allows Carlson to track their progress and make sure they are working at least 100 minutes a day on math, a requirement toward earning academic credit.

The software also gives written explanations, similar to what is expected of students on the WASL, with each question.

Elizabeth Snavely, 15, was a C+ math student who said she barely missed passing the seventh-grade math WASL.

She and her mother agreed that summer school could help in classes this fall and on the WASL next spring.

“The WASL is a lot of stress,” said Elizabeth, who plans to attend college. “…We are learning stuff my mom didn’t even know.”

At the same time, it forces students to work harder on their studies, which might help them get a better job some day, she said.

Hannah, her summer school classmate, stands by her decision to be in the classroom, despite missing out on some sun with friends.

“They just don’t like the idea of more school,” she said. “They don’t like the idea of not being able to relax the entire summer.”

Then again, they could end up in summer school in the future. Students will get four more chances to take any section of the WASL they fail the first time around.

Walter figures better sooner than later.

“I just want to pass them and not have to worry about it,” she said.

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