State eyes tougher high school graduation credits

December 28, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Proposed graduation requirements

Before earning a high school diploma, it’s no secret that students have to pass a number of required courses — 19 mandated by the state and a few others required by their school.

After a three-year study of high school credits, the Washington State Board of Education has recommended that the number of mandatory credits increase from 19 to 24. Such an endeavor would cost the state an estimated $188 million between 2011 and 2016, and would need financial approval from the state Legislature.

Most of the money would pay for teacher and counselor salaries. The state pays for five high school periods now, and it would have to fund six if the bill passed. About $28 million would pay for facility costs, since some schools would need extra science and art classrooms so their students could meet the new recommended requirements.

With a gaping state budget deficit estimated at $4.6 billion, some educators aren’t holding their breath while waiting for the bill to pass.

Regardless of funding, Washington is woefully behind in the number of credits it requires of its high school students. The board reviewed how Washington ranks compared to other states and found 16 states require more than the state’s three credits of math; 36 required more than two credits of science; 39 required more than two and a half credits of social studies; and 45 required more than three credits of English.

Washington’s required course load has not changed in the past 25 years: The graduating class of 2011 is graduating under the same state credit requirements expected for the class of 1985. The most recent change mandates that the class of 2013 take three math credits, instead of the two previously required by the state.

An increased course load would make Washington more comparable to other states.

“One of the main points here is kids are going to be prepared for whatever choice they take,” after high school, said State Board of Education member Connie Fletcher, who served on the Issaquah School Board for 16 years.

Fletcher voted for the 24 credits with the rest of the board Nov. 10.

The recommended requirements

Previously, advocates called the movement Core 24, but now they call it Career and College Ready. If approved by the state Legislature, the plan would be phased in during a five-year period. By the time the class of 2016 graduates, students would need four English credits, three science credits, two art credits, three social studies credits, two world language credits, two health and fitness, and two career concentration credits. The other credits are not changing.

The State Board of Education included four recommendations for the Career and College Ready plan:

  • Removing the 150-hour definition of a credit and instead asking that students have a “successful completion of the subject area…” per district policy.
  • Implement a two-for-one policy, allowing students to earn one credit in a career and technical education class, like culinary arts, and have it count toward two graduation requirements.
  • Make Washington state history and government a noncredit requirement for all graduating seniors.
  • Give local administrators the right to waive up to two credits for students who have attempted 24 credits.

Students could pass a language proficiency test in lieu of taking a world language, Fletcher said.

Career and College Ready also includes a High School and Beyond Plan. If funded, counselors would meet with students from eighth through 12th grades, serving as career advisors. Parents would be involved with the sessions, and counselors would advise students to take classes in areas supporting career interests.

Students could substitute coursework for one credit of art and two credits of world language if other courses would better help them meet their career goals, as expressed in their High School and Beyond Plan.

“We also increased the flexibility for kids,” Fletcher said.

Even if the Legislature does not provide the money for the Career and College Ready plan, the State Board of Education would still mandate that some parts of the plan be enacted, so long as they do not cost extra.

Controversy

Some educators are approaching the 24-credit recommendation with hesitation. Studies from 2008 and 2009 show that 54 percent of Washington high school graduates required remediation at community and technical colleges, which cost the state $17 million annually. While some question whether requiring more credits would help, instead of concentrating on making the existing credits more rigorous, Fletcher said more was better.

For example, a student who only took two years of math would likely need remediation in it at the college level, she said. If they took the required three, or even four, they would probably be better at the subject.

The cost of new classrooms and teachers is also causing anxiety in some schools that would have to expand to allow students to take more art and science credits.

Patrick Murphy, district executive director of secondary education, said most of Issaquah’s high school students are already taking at least 24 credits.

“The majority of our students are already meeting college entry requirements,” he said. “I would suspect it would have a minimal impact on our facilities, if at all, because it is already happening for a big chunk of our students.”

A 2008 study done by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction of 14,000 students’ transcripts showed that, on average, Washington students take 24 credits anyway.

Locally, only Tiger Mountain Community High School might have issues with facility space, and Principal Ed Marcoe said his school might rely on neighboring Issaquah High School for help enrolling students into art and science classes.

“We’re probably going to have to do a little thinking outside of the box, because we only have one science room and one science teacher,” Marcoe said.

The idea of 24 credits appealed to Marcoe, who said it would help his students prepare for life after high school. Now, Tiger Mountain students need 20 credits to graduate, while Skyline and Issaquah students need 22; Liberty students need 28, because they are on a block schedule.

Both Marcoe and Fletcher said they liked the idea of having an extra art credit.

“Teaching art is one of those ways you can encourage creativity and innovation,” Fletcher said.

Even private schools would have to adhere to the 24-credit minimum, according to the board’s website. Schools, both public and private, might balk at the 24-credit idea, Fletcher said.

“Some think it’s a usurpation of local control, the ability to set their own graduation requirements,” Fletcher said.

Issaquah-area state Reps. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, and Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said they both agreed with supporting the recommendation.

“It’s not just a good idea, it’s a great idea. What we’ve got to do is have more depth and rigor in our K through 12,” Anderson said. “We’re competing with kids from India and China who have 24 credits and more. The thought that we don’t have it is a pretty dangerous thought.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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