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Originally published September 9, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 9, 2006 at 12:44 AM

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Answers to some basic questions

Q: What is the WASL? A: The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) was developed as part of the 1993 Education Reform Bill, which...

Q: What is the WASL?

A: The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) was developed as part of the 1993 Education Reform Bill, which mandated new learning standards, a new state test and new accountability for students and schools.

Q: Who takes the WASL?

A: In past years, it was given to students in grades four, seven and 10. Now, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, students take it in grades three, five, six and eight as well. For all students, the WASL exam covers reading and math. Students in grades four and seven also take a writing section. Science is included in grades five, eight and 10.

Q: What's at stake for students?

A: This year's high-school juniors are the first class required to pass the reading, math and writing parts of the exam in order to graduate. Those students took the exam for the first time last spring. Those who failed will have four more chances to retake the full test or parts of it. If they fail twice, they can show they have the skills in ways other than a paper-and-pencil exam.

Q: How is the WASL scored?

A: Students receive a score on a scale of 1-4 for each section. A score of 1 is "below basic," 2 is "basic," 3 is "proficient," 4 is "advanced." A score of 3 or 4 is considered passing.

Q: What are the main criticisms?

A: Critics question whether something as important as graduation should rest on one exam, even with retakes. They worry that too much emphasis on the test crowds out nontested academic subjects. They contend the state raised its expectations for students and schools without providing enough additional resources. Some also say that the WASL's standards are beyond what the average student can be expected to achieve.

Q: What do its proponents say?

A: Students will have up to five chances to take the test, so students' futures don't rest on a single score. Proponents say that abandoning the tough job of raising expectations for students will hurt them far more in the long run than the stress of a high-stakes test.

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