Tri-City students hit books for math WASL


Juan Espinoza neatly wrote the equation on the chalkboard at the front of class and solved for X. It didn't take him long.

"X equals 10," he said.

His teacher nodded. His classmates checked the worksheets in front of them to make sure they'd gotten the right answer too.

Espinoza, 18, a senior at Sunnyside High School, spent a recent morning preparing for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in math, which will be given in high schools across the state this week.

The teen just missed passing the test on his last try.

In a few years, students won't have to take it at all.

The controversial math exam is being phased out and will be replaced with end-of-course tests starting with the Class of 2014.

Students who are in high school now won't be affected. So Espinoza and his classmates spent time last week reviewing geometry problems.

They talked about the difference between isosceles and equilateral triangles and how to use algebra to figure out the angles.

"You guys are smart enough to pass the test," said their teacher James Wise. "What you need to do is read the directions. Show your work."

The upcoming changes to the math WASL - the result of recent legislation - are welcome news to Richland School District leaders who've lobbied to have the exam replaced. They've cited expense and scoring, validity and reliability issues.

"I think it's a good step for teachers and for kids," said Richland School Board President Rick Jansons. Others have argued that backing off the exam would weaken math education by lowering standards.

But high-stakes math assessments aren't going away. Passing end-of-course exams in algebra 1 and geometry or integrated math I and II will be a graduation requirement for students starting with the Class of 2014.

Math graduation requirements haven't changed for the Classes of 2008-12. Students in the Class of 2013 will have the option of taking the end-of-course exams.

Reading and writing requirements are staying the same. Students in grades 3-8 will keep taking the math WASL.

School leaders said they've been doing their best to explain the upcoming changes to teens and parents.

"It's been difficult," said Gary Vegar, Sunnyside assistant superintendent for instruction and learning. "The system of math standards as well as graduation requirements have been in flux."

The state is overhauling math standards for elementary, middle and high schools. Math education in the state has gotten increased attention in recent years as student scores in the subject have lagged behind those in reading and writing.

In Sunnyside, school officials are trying out new math curriculum. The high school is moving to "interactive" math that includes more collaborative work and conceptual exercises beyond the textbook.

The district also is developing short assessments for all grades that will be given every couple of weeks to get a better sense of what students are learning and how to adjust instruction, Vegar said.

In Wise's math class last week, students looked at old math WASL questions and answers that students across the state had given.

Wise had his class score the answers. He explained why some got more points than others. The teens followed along. They argued over points. They asked questions.

Wise, who's head of the school's math department, said he wants his students to understand they need to try their best on the math WASL.

If they don't pass, they have more work to do to fulfill graduation requirements. Learning math is important, and that won't change, he said.

Even though the math WASL is being phased out, "there (will) still be a strong math requirement in place," Wise said.

The high school science WASL also will be given this week.