State superintendent proposes delays to graduation requirements

December 1, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

The debate about math and science graduation requirements is heating up again.As this year’s ninth-grade students gear up to pass the new High School Proficiency Exams as part of their graduation requirements in 2013, state Superintendent Randy Dorn is asking the state Legislature to postpone math and science requirements again.

Gov. Chris Gregoire delayed the mathematics graduation requirement in the face of low student scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exams in December 2006. The science graduation requirement was delayed in May 2007.

Dorn’s recommendation moves requiring students to pass the mathematics and science exams from 2013 until 2015 and 2017, respectively.

In his release, he said he made the recommendation Nov. 19 after seeing students’ final achievement rates on last spring’s final WASL exams.

“It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we have a big problem in our state. Less than 50 percent of our 10th-graders are passing the math and science exams,” Dorn said in a press release, noting that 10th-graders’ passing rates on the reading and writing exams is more than 80 percent. “We need to be fair to our students and give them time to learn the new standards. It’s simply a matter of doing what’s right.”

Additionally, Dorn said new math and science standards for the High School Proficiency Exams are only now being implemented and won’t be assessed until 2011. Because of this, Dorn said it doesn’t provide enough time for the class of 2013 to learn the standards, or for teachers and schools to align the curriculum and materials to them.

“We believe that every graduate needs a solid math and science foundation to succeed in our dynamic world economy, and we welcome a uniform and effective measure to help us gauge whether that’s happening,” said Sara Niegowski, Issaquah School District communications director. “While Issaquah students generally meet proficiency on the current standardized assessments in far greater percentages than the state average, we’re asking all students to get to that benchmark as a condition of graduation.

“That’s really high stakes,” she added. “So, it makes sense for the state to take the necessary time to be certain that high school students are not being held accountable for some flaw in the new assessment system, or in schools’ ability to align themselves with new standards on a tight timeline.”

In the proposal for the math graduation requirement, Dorn said he would ask the 2010 Legislature to continue the current requirement of either passing the state math exam or earning two additional credits of math after 10th grade for students up to the class of 2014.

He’ll also ask the Legislature to establish a two-tier bar for the math graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2015, according to Dorn’s Web site.

The first of the two bars is “proficient,” which means they passed the state exam. The second tier is “basic,” which means students passed the basic levels of the exam, but would still need to earn a fourth credit in math to graduate with a diploma. Requiring the fourth credit in math means students will continue to build their math skills.

Dorn’s idea stems from the two-tier Massachusetts system, which he said would maintain the state’s high standards but helps set a realistic bar for passing students.

The recommendation was not met with resounding support from educational groups or the governor.

“I oppose the proposal,” Gregoire said in a press release. “As our state and global economies become more technically driven, we need to ensure that our students leave high school highly trained in math and science, so they can qualify for Washington state jobs or entry into training and higher education programs of their choosing.

“Our students are capable of mastering our state’s standards in math and science,” she added. “They have shown us their capacity to meet our expectations in the past.”

Similarly, education advocates at the Washington State Board of Education also said a delay only postpones students’ ability to become proficient in math and science, and could prohibit them from obtaining the state’s best jobs in those fields.

Despite acknowledging the need for students and teachers to have ample time to prepare for the new requirements, Niegowski said the state superintendent’s office shouldn’t back off implementing and providing support, so students can meet the requirements.

“The state can’t use that as a crutch—at some point, it needs to implement the graduation requirements,” she said. “We hope the governor and superintendent of public instruction can work together to negotiate that balance to do what’s best for students.”

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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