The summer of WASL

Math has been Ryan Mack’s least favorite subject for as long as the 17-year-old Edmonds-Woodway High School student can remember.

This summer, he’s facing it head-on with a three-hour daily math class in a WASL program at Meadowdale High School.

“I don’t want to be here, but I want to get this all done so I can graduate,” he said.

Mack takes solace in knowing that he’s not the only one.

Across Snohomish County, about 900 local teenagers are taking special classes after failing portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning as sophomores last spring.

Passing the three tests is now required for graduation. Most of those getting summer help are gearing up for Aug. 7 to 10 retest window.

More than three-quarters of them are preparing for the tougher math test. Fewer failed in reading or writing.

In all, 1,062 teenagers are signed up to retake the math test at local school districts, 357 the writing test and 286 the reading test.

The state is offering help, including about $329,000 in local aid this summer alone. It also is providing online WASL materials schools can print to use in class.

Lake Stevens High School is one of those pulling from the list of questions that challenge students to find the height of a ladder or figure out which letter is a player’s best bet on “Wheel of Fortune.”

Teacher Kaleb Allinson said it’s a different flavor from the summer classes he has taught in previous years for students behind on credits.

“It’s their choice to be here,” Allinson said.

Tristan Nance, 16, has been in summer school with Allinson before – for math – and decided without any parental urging to attend the WASL summer course.

“All my other scores exceeded expectations, and I want my math score to be up there, too,” Nance said.

Classmate Connor Holmstead, 16, said he feels “ashamed” to be in summer school – his first time – but realizes it’s for the best.

“It’d be smarter just to come because then I don’t have to take it during the school year,” he said.

Most summer WASL programs, including Lake Stevens’, are geared to students who were close to passing.

Each school takes a different approach to who they invite and how they teach.

The Edmonds School District invited every student who failed a test to attend summer classes.

“The extra instruction will help anyone, regardless of where they are,” said Ken Limon, an assistant superintendent in the district.

Granite Falls decided to offer monthlong classes for some students and a four-day refresher course for those closer to passing.

In Marysville, 32 students are taking an online math program designed for those who missed passing by 10 or fewer points.

Another 142 sophomores are attending classes at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, where they get instruction in reading and writing, as well as math.

While many students passed reading and writing, the theory is that extra instruction in those areas will help them pass the math test, which requires students to explain how they solved the problems.

“We created the math online class for the ‘near misses’ and we created the full-meal deal for everyone else,” said Cindy Clauson, the district’s director of student achievement.

Everett offered two classes, depending on how close students were to passing. Many in a longer skills-building course will wait until spring to retest.

The classes use state-provided WASL questions, as well as assignments from a textbook the high schools use in math support classes during the year.

Amanda Gesme, 16, did well in her algebra class last year, so was shocked to fail the test. But she’s glad to get help – and a semester’s worth of elective credit, to boot.

“I’m learning not only how to do things but things I didn’t know,” she said.

Her teacher, Jennifer Chase, said students typically also need geometry to do well on the WASL math test. Many of her 24 students simply lack the vocabulary the test uses, such as “equivalent fractions” and “supplementary angles.”

Indeed, the benefits of the summer classes will last well beyond the retest in August, said Margaret LeFauve, a teacher in the Mukilteo School District’s summer program.

“For these kids in the fall, math is going to seem so much easier,” she said.

Students say they already see the difference.

“Coming here is good. I am learning how to do things like figuring out slopes that I’ve never known how to do,” said Roberta Smith, 16, a Mariner High School student.

Bryan Galeta, 16, a Kamiak High School junior, said he’s just happy to get over the WASL math hump during the summer rather than during the school year.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said.

Reporter Melissa Slager: 425-339-3465 or

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