Eighty-eight percent of the students met the requirement by passing the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), a homegrown statewide test given each spring and summer.

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The percentage of high-school seniors who have met state standards in reading and writing is 91.4 percent, Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson announced Tuesday.

That’s cause for celebration, Bergeson said, because it means the vast majority of seniors have fulfilled that graduation requirement, one of several that are new this year.

“I just have to stop and say, ‘Yeah,’ ” Bergeson said. “This is so great.”

Eighty-eight percent of the students met the requirement by passing the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), a homegrown statewide test given each spring and summer.

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The other 3 percent completed one of the approved alternatives.

Bergeson urged those who have yet to pass to stay in school or enroll in high-school-completion programs in their districts, or at community colleges.

“Get that diploma and make it count,” she said.

The passage rate is higher than many feared just a few years ago, when some predicted that the WASL could keep tens of thousands of students from earning a high-school diploma.

But the numbers don’t mean that 91.4 percent of the class of 2008 will earn diplomas in the next few weeks.

The numbers released Tuesday, for example, don’t cover the new math requirement, which also went into effect this year. Students don’t have to pass the math WASL to graduate but if they don’t, they must pass a full year of math class this year.

It’s not yet clear how many students are succeeding — or falling short — on that count. Just 72.4 percent of seniors have passed the math WASL, Bergeson said.

The numbers also don’t cover 9,500 students who entered high school four years ago but are considered juniors or sophomores because they are behind in credits. An additional 9,000 students who’ve dropped out of school also aren’t included.

And some of the students who’ve passed the WASL might not graduate if they don’t complete a senior project, another new requirement this year, or complete a plan for their post-high-school years.

The full picture of the class of 2008 won’t be clear for weeks, if not months.

Bergeson did say, however, that she expected as many students to graduate on time as have in the past.

Many school districts are still scrambling to figure out just who can graduate. They didn’t get the scores from this spring’s WASL until just recently.

In Seattle and Lake Washington, school officials say they’re waiting until final exams to know how many students will pass their math classes. For reading and writing, however, preliminary estimates in Seattle show that 6.7 percent of seniors will fall short because of the WASL, said spokesman David Tucker. That’s 204 students.

In the Kent School District, it’s down to 83 students. (Another 58 students are at risk of not passing their math class.)

Bergeson said she was particularly pleased about the passage rates in reading and writing for many minority groups. Those figures ranged from 84 percent for Latino seniors statewide, to a high of 93 percent for Caucasians and Asians (not including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders). African-American seniors were at 86 percent. The lowest was 64.5 percent for students who didn’t provide an ethnicity.

Among students from low-income families, 86.5 percent of students have passed.

The results were praised by those who have long supported the WASL, such as the business-backed Partnership for Learning, and criticism from those who raise questions about the exam, especially its use as a graduation requirement.

Shannon Rasmussen, chairwoman of the accountability task force for the Washington Education Association, says teachers’ concerns about the test haven’t changed. They especially don’t like using any one test to determine whether students graduate.

Seniors can take the WASL again in August and still be counted as on-time graduates.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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