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Standardized testing

State does away with standardized test requirement for students

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Washington is one of the few states in the country that still requires high school students to pass standardized tests to graduate. That’s made for a requirement that’s been a major barrier to graduation for thousands, and one that state superintendent of schools Chris Reykdal says will disappear under a new, recently-signed bill.

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“This is a significant step forward for our students and communities, and required legislators on both sides of the political aisle, K–12 and higher education advocates, and business organizations to come together,” said Reykdal.

Under the change, high school students will no longer have to pass standardized tests to graduate.

“They’ll still take a 10th-grade assessment, but instead of us telling students who struggle on the test, ‘hey, we’re going to need to put you in remedial courses,’ instead we can say ‘hey we see you struggled on this 10th-grade assessment — what are your plans?'” described Reykdal.

That in turn has schools building individualized roadmaps for students based around their plans beyond high school.

Reykdal says that will give them numerous options.

“If they’re headed to a technical program, we can give them applied mathematics — we can say ‘you need business math,’ or ‘you need math for carpentry,'” he continued. “It’s building to tailor individual pathways for students, and still give them their core classes.”

Students will have 10 total pathways to graduation, and passing the state test will still be one of them. Other pathways include:

  • Completing dual credit courses for college in English and math
  • Passing advanced placement math or English
  • Getting good scores in math
  • Reading or writing portions of the SAT
  • Passing the assessment used to join the military
  • Completing multiple career and technical courses relevant to a student’s post-high school plan

For Reykdal, it’s about doing away with the one-size-fits-all approach for graduating students, and opening new doors for kids.

“Consistent with the economy, 30 percent of students will need a baccalaureate degree, [and] probably 30 or 40 percent will need an associate degree,” he said. “There’s an enormous number of them who will need more than a high school diploma, but less than a college degree, and we kind of don’t have a plan for them right now until this bill passes; suddenly the world is opened up.”

The bill also includes some credit flexibility for students who may have struggled early on in high school.

Originally, students needed 24 credits for a diploma, while the bill changes that requirement to 22 credits based on a student’s individual plan.

“Most students will still do 24, but occasionally, a kid will struggle their freshman year — rather than basically not graduating and having them do a fifth year, if they can get back on track on their individual plan with 22 credits, then they can graduate on time,” Reykdal said.

Critics of the bill worry that not every school district will have the resources to offer all of the various pathways, specifically related to the availability of counselors.

“The problem with all the pathways is we don’t have enough counselors in the school system to get (students) all the way through,” said State Sen. John McCoy. “In my opinion, it will be a failure because we have a lack of counselors.”

Others remain unconvinced that the new proposed paths demand as much from students as standardized testing.

“We are supportive of keeping a rigorous, objective measure of career and college readiness as a part of the high school diploma, to ensure students are ready for their next step after high school,” said Julia Warth, director of policy and research for the League of Education Voters.

But Reykdal — and everyone else who supports the change — says this is in no way about letting students graduate without an education. They still have to earn their credits, and show proficiency in math and English; they just have more ways to accomplish that now.

“It will allow students to graduate from high school choosing multiple pathways, not just through standardized testing,” said Reykdal.