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WASL changes on the horizon

From the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to local school districts, changes are being discussed concerning the Washington State Assessment of Student Learning (WASLs) exams.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Terry Bergeson is hesitant to drop off the listening component of the WASL, feeling it is still an important part of students' learning assessments, say local school officials.

The listening portion is expected to be omitted from the WASL in the coming year, with more emphasis placed on the reading and math portions of the WASL test.

As part of President's Bush's "No Child Left Behind" efforts, the state government has elected to drop the listening portion of its WASL, while increasing the number of times students are now tested.

But like Bergeson, local educators feel more attention needs to be paid to the reading and math portions of the WASL's while retaining the listening portion of the test, according to Deannie Dunbar, Sunnyside School District's executive director of instruction and learning.

"Listening, which makes up 25 percent of the WASL, is still an important part of many of our students' assessments," Dunbar said.

Currently, students are given the WASL in fourth, eighth and tenth grades, with tenth graders expected to pass a certificate of mastery in order to graduate. The certificate becomes mandated with the class of 2008.

The WASL currently is comprised of a series of criterion-reference tests in reading, writing, listening and mathematics at fourth, seventh and 10th grade levels.

In addition, state lawmakers are now considering revamping portions of the state mandated certificate of mastery being required of the state's tenth graders prior to graduation. A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives, which is expected to offer a variety of alternative testing to students who have difficulties passing the comprehensive achievement test.

In other WASL changes coming down the line, science becomes a part of the WASL this year. Sunnyside School District fifth graders will be a part of the field testing this year, said Dunbar.

"We are only in the pilot stage of that portion of the test," Dunbar said, noting it will be become required at the eighth and tenth grade levels in the near future.

The state standard-based assessment incorporates three items: selected response (multiple choice); short constructed response; and extended constructed response, Dunbar explained.

Performance standards for the assessments in reading, writing, listening and mathematics have been set using an item mapping technique that developed by textbook researchers, according to Bergeson's office.

Meanwhile, listening which was originally made a part of the WASL as one of the basic communication skills, is still needed in order to show how children interpret information, stressed Dunbar.

"We need to know our students, many of whom have language issues, are hearing curriculum information accurately," Dunbar explained.

Meanwhile, other changes are coming to the classroom. Among those will be the federal government's requirement that all children in third through eighth grades will be tested every year. Dunbar explained the new tests, like the WASLs, will ask students to demonstrate both their factual knowledge and critical thinking abilities.

She said the new grade level testing program is one more result of the "No Child Left Behind" legislation.

"The federal government wants children tested regularly and early, allowing for earlier intervention," Dunbar explained.

The Sunnyside School District is now in the process of being approved as a pilot program for the No Child Left Behind grade level testing.

"We should know by March 1 if our request to be a part of the federal learning pilot is approved," Dunbar said.

"We're hopeful we will be approved for the program," she said.

Meanwhile, the debate about the 10th grade mastery requirement goes on in Olympia.

The state legislature is in the process of suggesting several changes to the state's 10th grade certificate of academic achievement, which mandates that all high school sophomores show competency in reading, math, writing and in science.

Last week, the House of Representatives approved the 3ESHB 2195 (Third Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2195), which seeks to amend the 10th grade standard, offering a broader variety of options for students who are unable to pass the test the first or second time around. The bill proposes to give students more than one way to take the test, which is currently a written test.

The lawmakers also are seeking to offer bilingual students other methods of taking the test in order to show their mastery of required subject matters.

Under the new house bill, students would also be given means, other than written responses for taking the test if needed.

The proposed legislation continues to require the certificate of achievement for graduation from public high school, but it stipulates tat it need not be the only requirement for graduation.

The bill now goes to the Senate Education Committee with a hearing set for Feb. 20. Lawmakers are not changing the requirements of the certificate of achievement, explained Ruben Carerra, Sunnyside School District executive director of schools and community resources.

"They are just seeking to give our bilingual students and those students with learning difficulties different options for proving they have learned the required materials," Carerra said.

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