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Thursday, January 18, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Will students make up snow days before WASL?

Seattle Times staff reporter

Area school districts soon will decide how to make up as many as 10 inclement-weather days this year — and whether students need that time in the classroom before the Washington Assessment of Student Learning this spring.

High-school sophomores, who currently must pass the reading, writing and math sections of the WASL to graduate, take the reading and writing portions in March. The math and science portions are a month later, when students in grades 3-8 take the test.

Last week, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) announced an emergency amendment to state law that would allow school districts to apply to waive make-up days in certain instances. Any school district that canceled classes related to a governor-declared state of emergency may not have to make up those days. Gov. Christine Gregoire declared states of emergency in November for flooding and in December for a windstorm.

The state requires students to attend school for 180 days. Districts make up inclement-weather days by using teacher in-service days, adding days at the end of the school year, or enacting other scheduling changes.

The WASL, however, is locked in.

"It's unfortunate that we've had so many unusually challenging winter-weather days that students have had to miss more school than usual, but the testing window won't be moved," said Molly O'Connor, assessment communications manager for OSPI. The WASL schedule is set several years in advance and planned around religious holidays and other extracurricular activities, such as sports, she said.

State Sen. Jim Clements, R-Selah, on Wednesday proposed a bill that would allow school districts not to have to make up days missed "due to unforeseen natural events or mechanical failures."

Many districts are considering shortening midwinter or spring break as an option to extending the school year. Seattle Public Schools hopes to announce its decision next week, said district spokeswoman Patti Spencer.

Bellevue school officials will meet Tuesday to discuss their options for making up eight days, including scaling back midwinter or spring break. The Federal Way School District, which also has canceled eight days of school this year, is discussing similar options.

"The concern is this is really disruptive to the educational process, especially with the WASL coming up in March, said district spokeswoman Debra Stenberg. "One of the considerations may be to try to replace some of that instructional time prior to the beginning of the WASL."

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Highline School District, which anticipates announcing its new school calendar in the next few weeks, is looking into alternatives to prolonging the school year, said district spokeswoman Catherine Carbone Rogers. Adding days at the end of the year doesn't help students prepare for the WASL, she said.

Each district's calendar is negotiated with its teachers union. Seattle's contract with the Seattle Education Association (SEA), for instance, states that all inclement-weather days are to be made up by adding days to the end of the school year. Any change would require the union's consent.

"We're in a no-win situation for everybody, but we're trying to figure out the best outcome for both our members and our parents," said Steve Pulkkinen, SEA executive director. He, too, expressed concern about the WASL. "It's a high-stakes test and coming out of the December break is when people start focusing in [on it]," he said. "With all these interruptions of the snow days, I think it'll have a negative impact on kids' scores."

Seattle sixth-grader Alex James, 12, had mixed feelings about returning to school on Wednesday, after Tuesday's snow day. "You always gotta love a snow day, but it's better to be back with your friends," said Alex, who attends TOPS K-8. "I'm wondering about if we're going to have spring or winter break."

His father, Jules James, took the morning off to take care of his son. He believes that children need to learn real-world lessons by going to school even if the weather's bad. But he admits to enjoying part of the day off himself.

"We had hours in the snow and it was far more memorable than a day in class, but I'm thrilled to be back because you can't teach math in a snowball."

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315 or jhsu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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