Summer WASL seminars debut, few enrolled

Jennifer Nelson, a Ridgetop Junior High School math teacher, helps Carol Phillips, a Central Kitsap High School junior, determine the y-intercept and slope for the graph of her equation. Two math Summer Seminars started last week for CK Class of 2008 students who need a little extra help to pass the WASL test re-take. - Photo by Valentina Petrova
Jennifer Nelson, a Ridgetop Junior High School math teacher, helps Carol Phillips, a Central Kitsap High School junior, determine the y-intercept and slope for the graph of her equation. Two math Summer Seminars started last week for CK Class of 2008 students who need a little extra help to pass the WASL test re-take.
— image credit: Photo by Valentina Petrova

Summer school starts Monday but by then, a group of about 30 Central Kitsap juniors will have four days’ worth of math logged this vacation season.

The WASL Summer Seminars they are enrolled in aren’t your typical summer school class. There is no credit offered. Attendance is optional.

Two math Summer Seminars began June 29 at Ridgetop Junior High School, preparing Class of 2008 members for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning early August test retake. Monday, two more seminars — one on writing and another on reading — will commence, along with the regular summer school classes.

Who’s taking them?

Class of 2008 students sat for the WASL exam, a new graduation requirement for them, this spring as sophomores. They received their scores back in June, months earlier than all other WASL-takers.

Seeing their individual scores, students and their families could decide whether to enroll in the Summer Seminars the Central Kitsap School District now offers, with curriculum and funding from the state.

The math seminars were designed to be most useful to those who scored between 388 and 399 of the necessary 400 points on the mathematics portion of the WASL.

Yet, the district did not turn away any Class of 2008 members who failed at least one of the three required subjects and wanted the extra instruction, said curriculum specialist Tara Richerson.

She planned for three sections of math and writing seminars and two for reading. However, enrollment only filled two math and one each of reading and writing.

“While it would have been nice to have a ‘full house’ this summer, I’m not surprised that we didn’t fill all of the sections,” Richerson said. “This is a new program and even with the great publicity we’ve received and all of the information we’ve tried to directly provide to parents, it sometimes takes time for something to become established.”

Another reason for the low numbers — some families simply had summer plans they could not break.

Though 40 students enrolled for a math seminar, only about 30 have shown up to class so far.

The turnout, however, is fairly consistent given the early hour of the seminar and the length of it. Math begins at 8 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m. with only 30 minutes built in for lunch and the seminar meets Monday through Thursday.

“That’s 20 hours of math (every week) that they’re voluntarily giving up (of) their summer,” said instructor Chris Nelson who teaches advanced algebra and functions, statistics and trigonometry at Olympic High School during the regular school year.

Nelson, who was pleased with the attendance, has not given his students any homework yet and if he does, it will be a light load.

The math sections of the WASL support program started earlier than reading and writing because the curriculum, prepared by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, calls for 100 hours of remedial math instruction, compared to 40 for writing and 30 for reading.

“The reading and writing tests are skill tests,” Richerson said. “Math is skills and content, so they have a lot more to juggle.”

Why do students enroll?

“Some of these kids are here because mom and dad want them to be here,” Richerson said. “But some of them ... called and asked to come.”

Malaika Laners, an Olympic High School junior, is one of the latter.

“I just want to make sure I pass it next time and staying at home ain’t gonna make sure I pass it,” she said Thursday morning, while hunching over a “payday” problem.

Laners was trying to determine how much money “Sally” would make if she sold 10 boxes, or 20 boxes, or 30 boxes per week, given that Sally earned $140 weekly plus a $1.25 bonus for each box of detergent she sold. How much money would Sally make if she sold “n” boxes?

Students had to write an equation and then graph it on the sheet of paper Jennifer Nelson, Chris Nelson’s wife and the teacher of the other math seminar section, handed out.

Equations and graphs happen to be Carol Phillips’ weak spots. Phillips, a Central Kitsap High School junior, passed the other two required WASL portions with “through the roof” scores.

“I’ve been reading ever since I could talk and writing comes easy,” Phillips said. “So those went by quick.”

Math, on the other hand, “is just the hardest subject for me to grasp,” she said. Phillips missed the math standard by a mere 20 points.

Laners also passed her reading and writing requirements. She has plans to attend a performing arts college, but to get there, she needs to pass the math WASL as well to get her high school diploma.

In August, Laners and all her Summer Seminar classmates will sit for the retake.

“Hopefully I can pass it so I can be done and have nothing to worry about,” she said.

The five-hour days are tedious, Laners says, but they are useful and she says more people should have come.

The seminar is long, agreed Melanie Sugzda and Kevin Stotts, both Olympic juniors.

The two sat next to each other laboring over the “payday” problem.

Sugzda, who spent her sophomore year in Arizona, took that state’s standardized high school test and passed it. However, her scores did not transfer back to Washington. She has not yet taken the 10th-grade WASL, but she needs to in order to get her diploma from Olympic High.

“I’m not worried about any of it,” Sugzda said. “My mom’s making me come.

“She wants me to be where everybody else is here and she wants me to graduate with my class.”

Stotts has passed his reading and writing WASL. Math has been his troublesome subject in school, though. He dropped out of Algebra 2 in the beginning of last semester because the class was dragging down his grade point average, Stotts said.

His parents are the reason he’s taking the seminar, too, although he admits “it’s a good refresher of math” and is looking forward to getting it over with.

“They are volunteering to be here and they are understanding why they’re here and so the effort has been pretty good,” Chris Nelson said and added with a smile, “and I think they don’t want to do it again.”

What teachers

are learning

Jennifer Nelson paced in front of her 11 students Thursday, fewer than she had the week before. It was probably the July Fourth “flu” keeping some of them at bay.

She was going over a set of problems. For 13 (a word problem), is “i” or “o” the most useful vowel?, Nelson asked.

“Yes,” someone offered.

Everyone else in the seminar laughed. So did the teacher. It would have been the correct answer for the previous problem.

“Be really intentional about reading the questions and make sure you’re answering what it is it’s asking,” Nelson told the Class of 2008 students. “Proofread your work.”

Jennifer Nelson teaches geometry at Ridgetop and she and her husband applied to teach the first-of-their-kind Summer Seminars to the first students who need to pass the WASL to graduate.

Lesson planning has been easy because the husband-and-wife team works through the days’ math problems ahead of time, trying to predict where kids might run into trouble spots.

Jennifer said she is excited about the style of teaching with the seminar curriculum, which includes plenty of group work and investigation.

“It’s been interesting for me just because I haven’t worked with 10th-graders before,” she added. “It’s interesting for me to see where my kids are going.”

As a junior high school teacher she is learning how to better prepare her students for the sophomore experience with math WASL.

Chris concurred. He finds teaching the seminar is teaching him to identify his own students’ weaknesses and ways to improve those weak areas.

Piloting the program

The WASL Summer Seminars are in their first season and their benefit will be evident once the students retake the test Aug. 7-10.

From first impressions some students are skeptical.

“Most of the stuff I don’t even think is going to be on the WASL,” said Stotts who has taken the 10th-grade test once already. “Some of it seems useless.”

However, the way the curriculum is designed, it spirals through all the content for the sophomore math WASL and students might not understand the big picture until the end of the seminars, Chris Nelson explained.

“The curriculum ... loops through a lot of the concepts,” he said.

There is one thing the seminar does not do.

“We can’t teach to the test,” Richerson said, since no one knows what problems will appear on the real test. “All we can do is teach to the standards.”

“On which the test is based,” Nelson added.

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