WASL crunch time arrives for Wilber
As school let out in June, Rickey Combs was in a buoyant mood. He was finishing up his junior year at Seattle's Chief Sealth High School...
Seattle Times education reporter
As school let out in June, Rickey Combs was in a buoyant mood. He was finishing up his junior year at Seattle's Chief Sealth High School. He was about to receive a CD of a vocal performance he recorded at a music camp a few months ago. And he no longer had to worry about the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).
He just missed passing the math section of the exam this spring, but state legislators pushed back the date when that subject will count for graduation. That allowed thousands of students like Rickey to breathe a sigh of relief.
"It took a lot off my shoulders," he said.
For Wilber Romero, however, the WASL is just one of a number of challenges ahead.
As Wilber's school year wound down, he lamented another year of spotty attendance. He didn't retake the WASL at Lincoln High School, where he transferred last fall when his family moved from Federal Way to Tacoma.
The Times first interviewed Rickey, Wilber and Mandy Schendel in early 2006 as the class of 2008 prepared to take the 10th-grade WASL for the first time.
Mandy, who attends Hazen High in Renton, passed reading, writing and math last spring. Rickey passed reading and writing, but not math. Wilber, who moved from Mexico to the U.S. in sixth grade, failed all three parts, coming closest to passing writing.
This spring was the third opportunity for the class of 2008 to take the 10th-grade WASL; the fourth will be in August. Students received their scores from the spring test a few weeks ago. In districts across the state, summer-school programs are now starting up to help students who have yet to pass.
It's unclear what percentage of the class has passed to date. The latest figures from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) counted only students who, like Rickey and Mandy, have enough credits to be on track to graduate. In that group, about 87 percent of the students have passed the WASL reading test, and the same have passed writing, according to preliminary figures, to be finalized in late August or early September.
The preliminary numbers didn't include Wilber and thousands of other students who have yet to pass reading or writing on the exam, and have to make up classes they've failed, or meet other graduation requirements. Some criticized OSPI for leaving those students out, saying that presented a rosier-than-real picture of the class' status.
Rickey's score on the math WASL fell short of passing by only a few points. He says he may take the exam once more just to prove to himself he can do it. He's always found math a challenge, and struggled in class, as well as on the test. When school started last fall, he enrolled in Integrated Math II for a second time.
Rickey still has to take and pass a math class next year — a requirement for students who want to graduate but haven't passed the math WASL. That's something he says he planned to do anyway because he wants to attend college.
He's now thinking about majoring in music. He sang in three choirs this year — Sealth's Honor Choir, plus two community groups.
Wilber, however, continues to struggle in school. He worked hard in spurts this year, he says, but his ups and downs with school continue. At WASL time, he says, he was directed to take a practice test instead of the real test. He doesn't know why.
Failing the WASL last year didn't help Wilber put aside his thoughts about dropping out. He needs to make up credits as well as pass the WASL if he's going to graduate on time. He thought about attending summer school, but that would have meant no income from a summer job. Now he's thinking about transferring to an alternative school.
He knows graduating from high school would mean a better future. He tries to tell himself that.
"I see it, but then I don't see it," he says.
This school year, he says, he missed David Vinson, the Federal Way High School teacher who last year took an interest in him. Vinson called Wilber when he skipped, challenged him not to give up on himself, insisted he stay after school until his homework was done.
At Lincoln High, he says, some of his teachers are good, but no one knows him like Vinson did. He can't recall the name of his counselor.
At the beginning of the year, he applied for one of the college scholarships offered by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Lincoln is one of the schools where students from low-income families can apply for a full ride to college. Wilber felt his interviews went well, but thinks his grades sunk him.
He worked harder in class — and showed up more regularly — as he was applying, he says. Then, disappointed, he let himself slide again.
"I didn't get it, so I was like, 'Phht. What's the point of being here?' "
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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