Olympia

Deal Reached to Ease the Stakes of High School Graduation Tests

The biology requirement would be suspended, while students who fail English and math exams would be provided a pathway to graduation.

A state requirement that high school students pass a biology exam in order to graduate would be suspended under an agreement announced Thursday by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The deal, if approved by the full House and Senate, clears the way for seniors who met every requirement except passing the test to receive their diploma.

Also under the accord, the state will continue requiring students to achieve a minimum score on standardized tests in English language arts and mathematics but provide a new path for those who fail one or both of those tests to still graduate.

It would be an expedited appeal process culminating in the superintendent of public instruction deciding if a student demonstrated enough knowledge in those subject areas to be exempted from the testing requirement.

Hundreds of students around the state may immediately benefit from this accord. At the start of May, 5,875 students had not passed one or more of the required tests, including 3,302 still needing to pass the biology test, according to the state superintendent’s office.

Specifics will be amended into House Bill 2224 which the House Education Committee approved Monday. Votes in the House and Senate won’t occur until lawmakers are in Olympia next week.

“Today, a cloud of uncertainty is lifted and a brighter future is in grasp for thousands of high school seniors across the state who are anxiously waiting for the Legislature to act,” said Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, chair of the House Education Committee, in a statement.

“Linking high-stakes tests to graduation is a deeply flawed policy,” she said. “The bipartisan agreement reached today supports each and every child by recognizing alternative pathways to earn a high school diploma that will allow them to take the next step toward realizing their college and career goals.”

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, the vice chairman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, who helped negotiate the final wording with Democratic and Republican members of the House, said the deal will “maintain academic rigor and objective educational standards, while giving teachers more flexibility and students more paths to learn and show what they know.”

For years, Washington lawmakers have been split on the value of high-stakes tests in improving student achievement.

Two years ago, this policy face-off kept lawmakers in session until July 9 when Senate Republicans agreed to a two-year delay in the biology test requirement proposed by Democratic senators.

The deal announced Thursday is a compromise between those lawmakers wanting to decouple all three tests from the state’s graduation requirements and those willing to do so with the exam in biology but not English language arts or math. Much of the wording is identical, or very similar, to what is in HB 2224.

Under the agreement, use of the state’s biology assessment as a graduation requirement would be delayed until the graduating class of 2021 when a more comprehensive science exam is expected.

The expedited appeal process would apply retroactively for the graduating classes of 2014, 2015, 2016 and this year. It also would be available for students in the class of 2018 who may be in danger of not passing the English or math exams.

As proposed, school district officials would decide which appeals are sent to Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. Under the agreement, much like the current bill, Reykdal can only approve appeals if it is clear the students have the necessary skills and knowledge to meet graduation standards and also have shown they are able to achieve the college or career goals in their High School and Beyond Plan.

The agreement will list several ways students can prove themselves, including completing a college level class in the relevant subject or demonstrating success in a job. Getting admitted to college or receiving a scholarship for higher education are two other ways. Enlistment in the military also may be considered a reason for issuing a waiver.

Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, students who have not met the standard on the mathematics or English assessment must take and pass “a locally determined course in the content area in which the student was not successful.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

This story originally appeared in the Everett Herald.

More in News & Comment

Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Photo courtesy King County
King County Could Ban Solitary Confinement for Youth in Detention

Last week, a lawsuit was filed over the practice; this week, King County scrambled to respond.

Welcome to the Bliss Jungle

A party house in Shoreline served as a home base for a community of hippies. It was also, according to multiple alleged victims, the scene of numerous rapes.

As promised, a decision was delivered before the Thanksgiving holiday.
King County Judge Rules Against Seattle Income Tax

The judgment sets up an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Mayor Signs Retirement Savings Plan Into Law

Along with signing the City budget, the mayor also put into motion the nation’s first city-faciliated, privately-administered retirement savings plan.

Bow Hunting in Bellevue, Church Threats, and Much Ado About Mulch

Plus, a former high school office staffer charged with rape.

City Budget Includes Funding for Georgetown-South Park Trail

Tired of feeling like islands, South Park and Georgetown residents pushed the city for greater connectivity between the communities.

Increased Caseloads Plague King County’s Mental Health Court

The Involuntary Treatment Act Court has seen its cases double in the last decade and the staff can’t keep up.

Seattle Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland speaks about a new agreement between the city and Seattle Public Schools at a Monday press conference. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Former Army Base Could Address School District’s ‘Capacity Crisis’

The city and Seattle Public Schools entered into an agreement on Monday to plan for new schools and Fort Lawton’s future.

Is the State Transportation Commission Irrelevant?

A report says the citizen panel often is ignored, and its duties overlap with the Transportation Department.

Most Read