Agreement reached on testing requirements for high school graduation

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Students in the high school graduating class of 2017 who did not pass state-required standardized assessments will be able to get their diploma if a new bill announced today is approved by the full Legislature. The compromise plan comes after education leaders in the state House of Representatives and Senate worked with the Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, to update the use of assessments required for graduation.

“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. “Linking high-stakes tests to graduation is a deeply flawed policy. 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.”

Currently, students must pass state tests in math, English language arts and science in order to graduate. English language arts and math are currently tested in the 11th grade. Under the new agreement, students would complete these exams in 10th grade beginning in 2019.

“It’s critical that our schools prepare students for whatever path they take after high school whether it be college, the workforce or other training,” said Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, who serves as Majority Floor Leader and as vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “By working together we’ve agreed on a way to maintain academic rigor and objective educational standards, while giving teachers more flexibility and students more paths to learn and show what they know.”

Use of the state’s biology assessment as a graduation requirement, which measures proficiency in science, would be delayed until the graduating class of 2021 when a more comprehensive science exam is expected. Students will still be required to pass the math and English language arts exams, but would have additional opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.

“I am grateful for the bipartisan effort that brought resolution to this issue,” said Reykdal. “Every student deserves a powerful pathway to post-secondary work and learning. With this bipartisan bill, we are making a very positive leap for our public education system.”

The new policy would also update the process available to students to pass an alternative assessment, which may include completing courses that have been accepted as “transition” or “dual credit” by Washington’s higher education institutions, or passage of a locally administered test. Local tests, which would need to be certified by OSPI, would provide additional flexibility for students and teachers to identify problem areas and quickly develop plans to help students demonstrate proficiency.

“While this is not the original bill I aimed to pass earlier this session, I believe it represents a fair compromise that will move us forward and help students who are graduating this year and in the years to come,” said Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, sponsor of the legislation. “In the future, I hope we can avoid spending months working on long overdue fixes by thinking more critically beforehand about the policies we’re implementing in our K-12 system.”

Lawmakers also proposed an expedited appeals process for students in the graduating classes of 2014 through 2018 who have not met standards on math and English language arts.

“Our current high stakes testing policy has sent the wrong message to students. We are telling them they are not ready for life beyond high school if they do not pass an assessment test,” said Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, ranking member on the House Education Committee. “This legislation would provide students some additional opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned in the classroom. This bipartisan agreement is a huge win for teachers, students and their families. It will also alleviate some of the stress and pressure that comes with high stakes assessment tests.”

It’s expected that both chambers could take up the legislation next week. While many high school graduation ceremonies have already occurred, the plan would apply retroactively to the class of 2017.

“There are a lot of opinions about assessments, so it wasn’t easy to come to an agreement. But we have a deal, and that’s great news for kids,” said Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “We in the legislature are being tested—tested on our ability to work together to improve education in our state. When it comes to our policy on assessments, we’ve done the job well. This is proof that our legislative process can work.”

“I’m pleased that students will now have several ways to show they are learning the material, instead of the one-size-fits-all approach,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

“Our schools today perform at high standards and no one should become a dropout at the end of their senior year simply because they do not perform well on a single, make-or-break test,” said Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane. “This bill offers a path to a better future for thousands of hard-working students in our state and I am glad lawmakers were able to come together and find common ground.”

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