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Thousands left behind due to state testing could get a fast-track to their diploma

Lawmakers are working out a deal that could help thousands in Washington state graduate . (AP)

Thousands of high school students in our state didn’t graduate this year because they failed one of three state-mandated tests required to get a diploma.

Many, including Chris Reykdal, the state superintendent of public instruction, as well as members of the State Board of Education, want the state to eliminate the requirement for one or all of the tests.

Now, after years of debate, lawmakers in Olympia announced they’ve reached a compromise deal expected to come up for votes this week.

Nearly 6,000 Washington high school students didn’t graduate on time this year because they either failed the state required biology test, the math test, or English Language Arts requirements.

“Only recently are the graduating classes held to this standard. Before that, graduation requirements were the same as they’ve always been. Students just needed to pass the classes to earn the credits and pass whatever local requirements were needed for a diploma,” State Rep. Monica Stonier said.

Stonier has been spearheading efforts in the House to resolve the issue. She says that since the test requirements went into effect, students who would otherwise be able to graduate haven’t received a diploma.

The testing requirements are collateral damage from changes to the No Child Left Behind Act passed a few years ago.

When the new law was implemented, states were allowed to go back and add their own level of accountability because the federal government no longer required state testing of accountability, Stonier says.

“There was push back because these tests didn’t align with the curriculum taught in classrooms,” she said.

The tests have been especially tough for students of color or in poverty. And biology tests have been particularly difficult for students transferring from other states.

“Because they hadn’t been in a state where biology was taught and assessed,” Stonier said.

For years, the Legislature has been trying to come up with a fix. Democrats prefer an all-out moratorium on all three tests. Senate Republicans have argued for a temporary exemption from the biology test.

Now, lawmakers on both sides say they’ve come up with a compromise.

The compromise allows students to appeal to local districts. Districts can then reach out to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and make the case that student should graduate without passing one of the tests.

Under the deal, thousands of kids who didn’t graduate this year because they failed math or English Language Arts requirements would be able to fast-track an appeal through OSPI and prove the are proficient in the subject. It also suspends biology requirement, allowing students who failed that test to graduate right away.

Another key provision would have students take the math and ELA test in 10th grade instead of 11th, giving them time to get up to speed on the subject.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill this week – and so far both sides say they expect it to pass — which means the roughly 2,000 students who didn’t graduate this year because they failed the biology test will graduate right away, and thousands of others who failed math or ELA, can start their appeals.

The compromise is also retroactive back to 2014 — meaning thousands of other students who didn’t graduate because they failed math or ELA tests now have a path to their diplomas.

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