WASL spells reform in schools
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:11 PM
"How do veteran teachers define WASL?The exact definition wasn't mentioned at a school board workshop Monday night. Everyone knew it stands for Washington Assessment of Student Learning. But the statewide testing program has resulted in changes in the South Whidbey School District, and veteran teachers were asked to give their reaction to the school board at the workshop session.To all present, WASL meant reform. It was also described as challenging, time consuming, frustrating, kid-driven, exciting, wonderful and balanced.A panel discussion on reform included high school math teacher Mark Racicot, who has never hesitated to criticize district policy if he thought it was going the wrong direction. But he joined the positive response to the WASL and the education reform movement it has generated.Racicot has served for several years on a district-wide math curriculum that included a review of all K-12 math lessons. He offered assurance that students will be learning math skills as well as math theory. We identified skills first and then linked them with process, he said. We definitely started with skills and will require our kids to know those skills. It's balanced.Racicot said he is just beginning to see the reform effort produce results in his high school math classes, and math teachers at all levels now talk to each other and teach toward a common goal. Before, when a new teacher came to school he or she was told, You're teaching pre-algebra, good luck, said Racicot. Now there's a lot more guidance. That should help the whole level go up.Superintendent Martin Laster summarized the goal of curriculum reform on math and other subjects. Teachers are told what should be taught when, but now how. That leaves creative options open to teachers. Also important is teaching materials, which the state must do a better job of providing schools, Laster said.Pam Muncey, a 15-year elementary teacher, spoke for others in describing the extra work involved with reform. She recounted teaching in the old Basil reader method, in which the teacher's lessons were clearly described and the children's reading precisely laid out. It was a whole lot easier to teach. Everything was textbook-based, Muncey said.Education reform has forced teachers to create their own strategies. Instead of all her students reading from the same dry textbook, Muncey now has different students reading a variety of novels. There's not one textbook in class now, she said. It's all us, it's all work. It takes a huge amount of time to prepare for the day. Reform's a lot of work, but I'm SO on board.All veteran teachers have seen educational approaches change as quickly as clothing fashions through the years. But Racicot said the WASL reform movement is different. There was not really a reform until this one, he said, criticizing past efforts to teach math as set theory. The new curriculum brings it back into the real world . . . I'm very in favor of this reform.Reform has even impacted kindergarten. Mary Ann Jakobsen has 29 years of experience, and she recalled the early days when her main concerns were cleaning paint brushes, picking the day's music and teaching social skills. Later, workbooks came into use, but It was all teacher-directed, she said. Reading sounds were taught, but with no purpose. Today, her 5-year-olds learn language skills and math from real life situations, and learn one discipline by practicing another. They learn their letters and sounds by writing, she said. It's been wonderful.Middle school science and math teacher Rachel Kizer said reform with its state testing has resulted in completely redoing how I teach math. While she criticized the state in certain areas, such as frequent changes of the learning benchmarks, and lack of materials, she too fully supports the movement. I've got college-level stuff to teach at the middle school, she said.Reform doesn't mean there's only one way to teach. Far from it. Primary school Principal Bernie Mahar said she started her career in Texas, which is famous for its test-based approach to education. It wasn't about the kids at all, she said. It was what I spit out. There was no creativity for teachers in the classroom.Mahar contrasted Texas to South Whidbey. We're taking the kids into account, she said. Are they able to get it? It's more conceptual, more experiential. It's so much more kid-driven in partnership with the teacher. It's a much more exciting place to be in. I love to watch it.At the middle school, even the students like the WASL reform process and its annual test. The kids are into WASL. It's interesting and important, said Tim Gordon, assistant principal.On South Whidbey, the math curriculum was the first to be reformed and implemented. Other disciplines will follow, Laster said. The goal is to integrate the curriculums. The more integrated we are, the more we can use science, history and the arts, he said. "