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Seven is no lucky number on WASL

Although the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) weighs heavily on all educators’ minds, perhaps none worry more than those who prepare seventh graders for the exam.

Seventh graders generally score lower on the test than fourth and 10th graders, but particularly on the reading portion. In 2001, 30 percent fewer Central Kitsap seventh graders met state reading standards than the other two grade levels — the largest disparity of any section of the examination.

“We have all put a lot of thought into why seventh graders score lower,” said Jocelyn McCabe, communications director for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). “The bottom line for us is, there are no clear answers. We are initiating an independent study of the seventh-grade WASL, and that’s an issue we’re going to look at.”

Seventh grade students are fraught with hormonal changes, but that’s not the reason they score poorly, said Linda Elman, director of research and assessment for the Central Kitsap School District. She believes the test itself is the problem.

She conducted a data analysis and discovered that many students failed the seventh-grade exam but met fourth- and 10th-grade WASL standards.

“I think for some reason that the seventh-grade test is harder for the seventh graders. I think it’s something about the test itself, or the standard. It disturbs me because I see so much hard work on the part of the teachers and students, and the scores aren’t improving at the same rate that we see at fourth and 10th (grades).”

Local junior high principals agree the test seems more difficult, but are encouraged that Central Kitsap 10th graders score significantly higher than the state average.

“We only have the seventh graders eight months before they take the test,” said Barbara Gilchrist, Central Kitsap Junior High principal. “Truly, the 10th- grade scores are a reflection of what’s done in junior high.”

Until changes are initiated, junior high educators are preparing pupils for the April 22-May testing.

They have to.

The state Legislature might make passage of the WASL a graduation requirement by 2008. Until then, schools are expected to progressively improve scores. Eventually there could be consequences for poorly-performing schools.

CK junior high educators employ a host of techniques to boost scores, from after-school tutoring to integrating WASL-type problems into everyday lessons.

Fairview Junior High math teacher Kristy Jones said 2001 scores included a list of how students scored on individual problems. That data, not available in previous years, allowed her to focus specifically on gaps in students’ knowledge.

“Before it was kind of a secret. The kids would come back frustrated and ask, “How can I have an ‘A’ in the class and not pass the WASL?” Jones said.

Central Kitsap Junior High and Ridgetop Junior High have implemented after-school math and language arts tutoring programs for students in danger of failing the WASL.

Ridgetop eighth-grader Lucas Bennett said he did “terrible” on the WASL last year, but added he is benefiting from twice-weekly language arts tutoring.

“This has helped me with my reading comprehension and raised my grade,” Bennett said.

Schools also tinker with testing schedules to maximize student performance.

“We’re always looking for the magic answer, but their isn’t one,” said Chris Wyatt, Ridgetop Junior High principal. “You just have to find what works best with your school.”

Despite potential problems with the test, principals are optimistic about the upcoming assessment.

At Klahowya, having junior high and high school students in the same building is an advantage, according to Principal Katharine Gleysteen.

“We can work with them on specific areas before they take the 10th-grade test,” she said, adding, “We are ready. We are absolutely ready. I feel very optimistic based on what our teachers have been doing and our students’ attention to learning.”

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