Issaquah School District may not wait for state to hike science requirements

August 23, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

State education officials have backed away from a requirement that all Washington high school students pass a biology proficiency exam in order to graduate.

But just because the state isn’t ready to move forward doesn’t mean the Issaquah School District can’t strengthen its science requirements, including possibly implementing a biology or general science proficiency test of its own.

At least that was the argument from a few Issaquah School Board members during their regular meeting Aug. 9. Board member Brian Deagle in particular said he was not willing to just drop, due to state inaction, the requirement that Issaquah school students prove some baseline scientific knowledge prior to graduation.

“This is an opportunity for our district to lead,” board member Chad Magendanz added.

The state moved away from the testing requirement because the standardized test isn’t ready to go, said Patrick Murphy, district executive director of secondary education. When state officials first adopted the testing requirement, it was supposed to become mandatory in 2013. The state Legislature has moved that date back to 2015.

Now, according to Murphy, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn wants the start of testing postponed to 2017. The state is liable “to kick the can further down the road,” Magendanz said. Both he and Deagle pushed for the district to implement its own testing or somehow make local science requirements more rigorous.

For his part, Murphy said standardized tests need about two years of development before they can be considered accurate and useful. That’s one reason the state has put off the testing requirement, he added. If district officials moved to develop their own test, they would still need about two years of developmental lead-time.

If he didn’t necessarily back the district implementing its own test, Murphy said Issaquah schools have, in the past, implemented graduation requirements that are more stringent than that of the state.

For example, students must take three years of math in order to graduate. They also submit to a standardized test. Passage isn’t required for graduation, but since the test serves as the final for the last year of math classes, it would be difficult for a student to pass the class without passing the test, Murphy said. Deagle indicated several times that he had something like that in mind for the school’s science curriculum.

“I’m not automatically convinced an assessment is the way to do this,” board President Jan Woldseth Colbrese said.

Instead, she and others said the way to increase scientific rigor in the district was to increase science course requirements. Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said the discussion might be focusing a bit too much on biology. What about physics or chemistry requirements, Thiele asked. There also may be legal consequences to requiring a test not required by the state, he said.

Despite any possible roadblocks, Deagle continued to plug away at the idea of more stringent science requirements.

“We should push ourselves here,” he said, adding science comprehension is of critical importance for students.

In the end, Colbrese asked school administrators to investigate the test issue further with some recommendations possibly reaching the board as early as its next meeting on Aug. 31. That session was rescheduled for unrelated reasons from Aug. 24.

“Let’s start charting our course towards an increased rigor in science,” Colbrese said.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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