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A WASL solution: Add year of math? School leaders suggest that students who fail the test pass a senior-year math class to earn a diploma.

By Eric Stevick
The Daily Herald Writer


Snohomish County school superintendents fear thousands of students statewide will be denied diplomas if the math WASL remains a graduation requirement for the class of 2008.

They're pushing a short-term alternative: requiring students to take and pass a math class their senior year if they haven't passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in math.

Just 56 percent of the state's nearly 75,000 juniors have passed the 10th-grade math WASL.

That means more than 32,000 students still must pass the math portion to graduate, including 14,000 who are considered "well below" the passing mark.

"Hopefully, our proposal to require an additional year of math will resonate with some legislators," said Dave Burgess, the Lake Stevens School District superintendent. "It's a short-term fix."

The Snohomish County superintendents developed the plan when they met in the past few months and discussed concerns about students graduating.

"I don't see it as backing away," said Arlington School District Superintendent Linda Byrnes. "We should not be punishing these kids when we have not been able to deliver what they need."

The superintendents say math is a more complex challenge and will take longer to fix than reading and writing.

They outline their short- and long-term concerns in a 12-page briefing paper that they have shared with education leaders in the state House and Senate.

"I think it has merit," said Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, chairman of the House Education Committee. "They have put together a very thoughtful proposal."

Marysville School District Superintendent Larry Nyland said the senior math class would "keep ourselves accountable but not penalize the students." At the same time, it would "not give the students a free pass" because they would be required to continue learning math.

The superintendents don't spell out what math class the students would take, but they believe the class will give the students more math skills. They also believe that most students will still try to pass the math portion of WASL to avoid the senior math class.

Later this month, Quall plans to ask state education staff to estimate costs outlined by the superintendents, including how much it would take to get extra help for students struggling in math in elementary and middle school.

The superintendents also advocate more training for teachers and a more streamlined curriculum allowing teachers to go into greater depth at each grade level.

They also want a clearer understanding and alignment of what is expected of math students from the state and federal government and universities.

"We believe that an overhaul of K-12 mathematics education is essential," the superintendents wrote. "Short-term fixes should not distract us from this long-term need to improve mathematics education."

Terry Bergeson, the state superintendent of public instruction, says she doesn't want to delay the math WASL graduation requirement but is open to alternative solutions.

"There will be a fierce debate in the Legislature whether to keep the math standards or delay it," she said.

"I think a straight delay would be a bad idea," she said.

Byrnes, the Arlington superintendent, said she believes math scores will rise to the levels of reading and writing in a few years. Statewide, the reading passing rate is 87 percent and writing is 86 percent with two years for students to retake parts of the exam that they failed.

The superintendents said part of the problem is that today's math places more emphasis on concepts as well as computation.

"The WASL requires students to read, think, problem-solve, manipulate mathematical concepts and explain their work in writing and illustrations," she said. "Integrating these skills is not something that we have traditionally required of our students."

Lakewood School District Superintendent Larry Francois said time is critical.

"We need more time to provide more instruction for our kids to be successful in the types of things the WASL asks," he said.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or stevick@heraldnet.com.


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