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It’s time for lame-duck math WASL, which kids don’t have to pass

Mon., April 14, 2008, midnight

When you’re a senior in high school, it can be hard to wrap your brain around the concept of inevitability. That whole death and taxes thing is so down-the-road.

But graduation, now that’s something an 18-year-old can get behind, even one who’s spent his teenage years resisting the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

This is the week North Central High School senior Adam Kuntz learns that resistance is futile, at least where the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is concerned. Like thousands of students throughout the state, he is taking the math portion of the WASL – sort of.

The anti-WASL student activist is showing up for the test, but he’s not planning on passing it – not by a long shot.

The math portion of the WASL, which only about half of Washington students pass each year, will be phased out by 2014 under a law signed last month by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The state had already delayed the requirement that students pass the math and science portions of the WASL to graduate.

So from now through 2012, students have to take, but not necessarily pass, the WASL in math. And that includes Kuntz, who, with the support of his family, fellow students and some teachers, hadn’t taken the test in reading, writing, science or math since the fourth grade.

“It’s a defeat in the sense that I had to take it for graduation,” Kuntz said, “but a victory in that I am doing the minimum I have to graduate but not anything more.”

With a 3.9 grade-point average, and better than average scores on his Advance Placement, Pre-Scholastic Aptitude and Scholastic Aptitude tests, Kuntz has already been accepted at St. Louis University’s Madrid campus in Spain this fall.

All he lacks is a diploma, and he can’t get that without at least attempting to take the WASL, according to OSPI.

“You have to make an attempt at the test, this is the directive we get from the state,” said Steven Gering, Kuntz’s principal at North Central High.

There are alternatives to passing the math, reading and writing portions of the test. Showing proficiency in a subject by achieving acceptable scores on other tests, such as the PSAT, ACT, SAT or advanced placement, is one such alternative, but only if the student at least attempts the WASL.

“You have to score,” Gering said.

That’s all Kuntz intends to do. Before taking the reading and writing sections of the WASL last month, he contacted OSPI to ascertain “what entails generating a score” on the exams.

He said the state’s response was to answer two questions on each section.

So Kuntz spent seven minutes each day of the test, filling in multiple-choice answers at random and answering essay questions in a single sentence.

For example, asked to describe how life must have been for the Iceman, a mummy found in the Alps from about 3300 B.C., Kuntz wrote: “Life for the Iceman was hard and cold.”

Kuntz and some parents and teachers groups oppose the WASL as a high-stakes test. They say it is unfair, expensive and not an appropriate assessment for student graduation. The Washington Education Association estimates the cost of administering the WASL in 2006-07 was $114 million, including federal, state and local funds.

“It’s taking away money from things that could be useful like reducing class size,” Kuntz said.

But Gering counters that some form of student assessment is necessary. “It’s how we know how a student (and the school) is doing,” the principal said.

Under the new law, the class of 2013 will be given the option of passing the math WASL or passing end-of-course exams in Algebra I and geometry or Integrated Math I and II, which typically are taught during freshman or sophomore years.

But in 2014, the high school math WASL will be replaced as a graduation requirement by the end-of-course exams entirely. Students in third through eighth grade, however, will still be given the math WASL.

So if it has been determined that the WASL should be replaced, why do students have to wait until 2014 to get rid of it?

According to OSPI spokesman Nathan Olson, it will take that long to “develop and pilot the new assessments” of learning.

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