Students not stressing over WASL

Some 400 BHS sophomores began the state’s standardized exams yesterday.

Four hundred Bainbridge High School sophomores leaned over their exams in hushed classrooms Tuesday, as eight mornings of WASL testing got under way.

It’s the first time 10th-graders throughout the state are taking the Washington Assessment of Student Learning on the same dates and at the same time.

Standardizing the exams is a move intended to improve confidence in the test results and to prevent cheating.

“The positive side is that the state is clearer about what segment of the test should be given in what sequence,” BHS Principal Brent Peterson said. “There have been questions in the past about whether the scores at some schools have been higher or lower because of testing conditions or how it’s done.”

The new standardized testing schedule should eliminate that variable, Peterson said, “and from an assessment point of view I understand and support that.”

The stakes for students taking the WASL increase significantly this year and next. Scores from this year’s test results will appear on students’ transcripts at graduation and will become one of the barometers that colleges use in admissions.

And starting next year, 10th-grade students must pass the WASL in order to obtain their high school diploma.

“There is no getting around the fact that it’s a high-stakes exam,” Peterson said, “and we encourage kids to take it seriously.”

But to keep the stress level down, students take the WASL in classrooms as they would any other test.

Students contacted before the exams began Tuesday morning said they weren’t anxious or worried at all. Over the years, they’ve had plenty of practice.

“We’ve taken a lot of tests just like the WASL, which give you good test-taking skills,” BHS sophomore Nick Brandon said.

“If I do good on the WASL, it’ll help me look better” on college applications, Brandon said, heading off to take the test with a backpack slung over his shoulder.

Students who don’t pass the WASL will be given another chance to take it in 11th grade, under legislation implemented this year.

The state is also allowing students who weren’t happy with their WASL scores to retake the test their junior year at their own expense.

At Bainbridge High School, 40 students didn’t pass the WASL last year, and most opted not to retake this year, said Faith Chapel, the school district’s assistant superintendent of instruction. She expects that to change next year, “absolutely,” when graduation depends on it.

Most Bainbridge Island students do very well on the WASL, and last year’s sophomores posted the highest scores in the state.

WASL test results from last spring showed that 89 percent of BHS 10th graders met or exceeded the state standards for reading, with 78 percent exceeding the standards in math, 91 percent in writing, and 69 percent in science.

Overall, the sophomores exceeded state average scores by about 35 points in every academic category.

The WASL is part of a comprehensive assessment system used by schools statewide – and at various grade levels – to measure achievement of academic skills and knowledge.

Also taking the WASL the next two weeks are fourth and seventh graders, who will be tested in reading, writing and math.

A new science section of the exam is being administered to fifth, eighth and 10th grade students this year.

“We’ve spent the last six to eight years making adjustments in instruction so that what they have been learning all year long matches up well” with WASL testing, Peterson said.

“It’s not particularly novel anymore.”

Prepped by a good night’s sleep and breakfast made by her mom, sophomore Kim Lusk said the WASL is pretty simple.

“It’s written on a level that’s easy to understand,” she said.

Her friend Caitlin Jones looked equally relaxed, and said Tuesday’s reading section of the WASL was her favorite.

“I think I’ll do just fine,” she said.

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