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Thursday, September 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:30 A.M.


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Improvement on WASL carries asterisk

Who takes the WASL?

Students in grades four, seven and 10 are tested in reading, writing and math. Listening was dropped this year, while science was added last year in grades eight and 10 and, on a voluntary basis this year, in grade five.

What's at stake?

Starting in 2008, students must pass the 10th-grade WASL to get a high-school diploma, so this year's ninth-graders will have to pass the WASL to graduate, and can have as many as five chances. Also, the WASL's reading and math portions are used to determine whether schools and districts meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

What kind of test is the WASL?

Each section (except writing) is composed of multiple-choice, short-answer and extended-response questions. Students are graded on a scale of 1-4: 1 is "below basic"; 2 is "basic"; 3 is "proficient"; 4 is "advanced." A score of 3-4 has been considered passing.

What does the WASL measure?
The test measures how well a student is progressing toward meeting a standard, rather than comparing their performance to other students' performances. The standards — called Essential Academic Learning Requirements — were developed by a group of state educators and citizens in the mid-1990s and reflect what they felt were the skills and knowledge students must have to be successful as adults.

How were WASL scores adjusted this year?

The passing rates were lowered slightly in reading and math for the fourth- and seventh-grade exams.

What is "AYP" and how is it measured?

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all students must meet state standards in reading and math by 2014. Until then, schools, districts and the state must make "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) toward that goal. It is measured by the performance in the reading and math WASL of all students as a whole, plus the performance of five racial/ethnic groups; low-income students; special-education students; and students learning English. Whether scores fall short in one subgroup or in several, the results are the same — the school does not make AYP.

Are there other targets?

Yes. Elementary, middle and junior-high schools must meet targets for unexcused absences. This year the maximum unexcused-absence goal is 1 percent. High schools must meet targets for graduation rates; this year 66 percent. But schools that fall short can stay out of federal hot water if they increase their graduation rate by 1 percent, or make any improvement in their unexcused-absence rate.

If a school falls short in one or more groups in reading or math, can it still make AYP?

Yes, if there's a 10 percent reduction in the number of students who fall short of the target in that group, and if that group also meets the attendance or graduation targets.

What happens when there is no adequate yearly progress?

Two years of not making AYP in the same content area trigger "improvement" status for a school, district or the state, and increasing sanctions in each subsequent year. Step one requires development of a school-improvement plan and offering parents the choice to transfer students to higher-performing schools. Step two requires the district to offer "supplemental services" to students in failing schools. Step three requires "corrective action." And step four requires the school or district to implement a new governance structure.

Are all schools subject to sanctions?

No. Although all schools must report whether they make AYP, only those that receive money under the federal Title I program face sanctions if they fall short. In this state, about half of the 2,000 schools could face sanctions. Last year, 44 did. This year, 77 did. In some districts, like Seattle, no middle or high schools could face sanctions because the district directs Title I dollars to elementary schools.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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