02-19-2017  1:16 pm      •     

Nearly one-quarter of sophomores in Seattle high schools have been reclassified as freshmen, a move that will delay their schedule for taking the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

This year's sophomore class is the first that must pass the WASL to graduate. The students that were reclassified as freshmen were failing or not completing classes and school officials were fearful they would not pass the high-stakes exam.

The reclassification takes the pressure off the 827 reclassified students for now. They can remain with peers in classes, sports and other activities, but must make up credits by taking classes at night or during the summer if they want to graduate on time.

"Students who are not on time in terms of credits don't pass the WASL," said John Thorp, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools. "What is the point of putting them through the WASL if they are not ready?"

Other school districts in the region have reclassifying policies, but Seattle may be the only district to adjust its policies due to the WASL.

In the past, students entering their second year of high school were considered sophomores no matter how many credits they had earned. Seattle students need 20 credits to graduate, or five a year.

Under new rules, student must earn five credits each year to advance.

The concentration of newly classified freshmen is highest at schools with large ethnic minority populations and students on the federal free- and reduced-priced lunch program — groups most at risk for failing the WASL.

Nearly half the sophomores at Rainier Beach High School and one-third of the 10th-graders at Cleveland, Chief Sealth and Franklin are now considered freshmen.

Statistics from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction show that statewide, 75 percent of low-income students and nearly 80 percent of Hispanic, African American and Native Americans failed at least one portion of the WASL last spring.

Thorp said the district cannot wait for students to become juniors or seniors before getting them back on track.

"Some are so far back that they have lost the will to go on" and drop out, Thorp said.

"If you can catch a kid now instead of waiting until he is a junior or senior, chances are better" he or she will catch up.

— The Associated Press

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