WASL isn’t the No. 1 threat to diplomas

A lack of academic credits looms as a bigger barrier to graduation than the WASL for the class of 2008, according to area school districts.

For years a lightning rod for debate among parents, teachers, politicians and education leaders, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning is far less likely to keep seniors from receiving their diplomas in June than students simply failing their classes, school statistics show.

“I would be shocked if we had anybody who will not graduate because of the WASL,” said Joel Thaut, superintendent of the Granite Falls School District “Really the ones we are finding who aren’t going to graduate are credit-deficient already.”

In Granite Falls, 120 of the 128 seniors are on track with credits to graduate. Of those students, one has yet to pass the 10th-grade reading WASL and three have not passed the writing WASL, but all are expected to make it by June based on progress shown this fall, Thaut said.

The class of 2008 likely will be the first group of students who must pass the WASL to graduate. The Legislature postponed the math WASL as a graduation requirement until 2013, but kept reading and writing requirements in place. Some lawmakers are trying to delay the reading and writing as well, saying it will deprive recent immigrants, special education students and low-income students of their diplomas.

At several large high schools, however, leaders believe they are close to getting most students who have enough credits over the WASL hump by June.

Consider Cascade High School.

As of Friday, the Everett school had 386 students in its class of 2008, but 63 were behind on credits they need in order to graduate on time.

Of the 323 students on track to earn enough credits to graduate, seven have not passed the WASL’s reading mark, five have not passed writing and 15 have not passed both reading and writing portions of the 10th-grade WASL. Of the 27 students with WASL problems, about 40 percent have either not taken the tests or not had their WASL scores recorded.

Of 63 Cascade students behind on credits, seven haven’t passed the reading test, nine haven’t passed the writing and 11 have not passed either exams.

How many credits have been earned “is the much bigger factor in students’ on-time graduation status than the WASL is,” said Cascade High School principal Cathy Woods. “I am hopeful, particularly for the kids we are talking about who are not credit deficient. They are very motivated.”

Many of those students failed the WASL by a few points and are taking classes this semester to prepare them for a spring WASL retake, she said.

At the same time, they are preparing notebooks with samples of their work. Those notebooks, called collections of evidence, will be submitted to a state-hired evaluation team next week as one of several alternative ways to meet the WASL requirement.

Jackie Amatucci teaches a class at Cascade for seven seniors caught up on credits but still needing to pass the WASL. The small class size has allowed her to work with each student on an individual level and she is confident that all will pass the WASL this spring.

“I think it’s going to be a shoo-in,” she said. “I have never been so heartened in my life about the progress these students are making.”

Still, not all students with the credits will make it and that’s why some lawmakers are trying to postpone the reading and writing WASL as a graduation requirement until 2013.

“If you look at all the percentages and numbers, you may say it’s (small), but the real issue is, What if it was your child?” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. “Each number represents a child and that’s why we struggle with this.”

“We don’t have to just address the WASL; we should be addressing credit retrieval,” said McAuliffe, D-Bothell.

In the Everett School District, 16 of 919 students on track with credits to graduate this year have yet to pass the reading exam. There are 15 who have not passed writing and 37 who haven’t passed either test. Roughly 40 percent of those students either haven’t taken the WASL or their results aren’t yet included, district officials said.

By comparison, 211 out of 1,130 seniors in the district are behind on credits and in jeopardy of not graduating on time. Of those, 15 haven’t passed the reading WASL, 24 haven’t passed the writing and 50 haven’t passed either test.

Terry Edwards, Everett’s curriculum director, said the WASL should be looked at as just another requirement, similar to passing English, U.S. history or science courses. “We shouldn’t be thinking that one is more special than the other,” he said.

The Everett district is drilling down into the data of the class of 2008. Among the 37 students who have enough credits but who have not passed either the reading or writing WASL, eight are learning English as a second language, 11 are in special education and 18 are in basic education classes.

Edwards expects the number of special education students needing to pass the WASL to drop soon when results come in for those who were allowed to take a “developmentally appropriate” version of the exam that assesses them differently.

In the Edmonds School District, 78 percent of the class of 2008 is on pace with credits to graduate on time.

A closer look shows 74 percent are on schedule with credits and have passed the WASL while 4 percent have the credits but have yet to pass the WASL.

That leaves 15 percent of the district’s students who are behind on credits but have passed the WASL and 7 percent lacking the credits and who haven’t passed the WASL.

Dave Pavelchek, senior research manager for Washington State University’s Social and Economic Science Research Center, studied 15 school districts’ WASL results and academic credits from the classes of 2008 across the state at the end of the last school year.

He found that 62 percent of the 11,000 students had both passed the WASL and were on track with their credits to graduate on time. Five percent had enough credits but hadn’t passed the WASL. Another 22 percent had passed the WASL but were behind in credits and 11 percent were behind in credits and hadn’t passed the WASL.

“I think if people are looking solely at the WASL as the reason kids aren’t going to graduate, it’s a mistake,” Pavelchek said.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail stevick@heraldnet.com.

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