Issaquah School Board debates high school graduation requirements

June 12, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

In an area like the Eastside, where science and technology put food on many families’ tables, the Issaquah School Board is debating whether students are studying enough science.

Some board members say the district should adopt tougher standards while others are concerned about putting unnecessary pressure on some students.

During two rounds of discussions, the board has considered requiring all students to take three years of science, instead of the state-mandated two years.

“We need to start with whether we think the minimum bar we have is sufficient or if we should raise the bar for everyone,” said board member Brian Deagle at a May 9 work session. “I’m in the camp that we should raise the bar on what it means to earn, in Issaquah, a high school diploma.”

But school board President Chad Magendanz disagreed. He said the bar he has for students differs depending on the student and the challenges they face.

Students in the Issaquah School District can graduate and meet minimum college entry requirements by passing one year of biology and one year of chemistry, which is aligned with the statewide standard of two science credits. Beyond that, students have several options for additional science courses, like forensic science at Issaquah or botany at Skyline and Liberty. While the state sets the minimum, districts may make standards tougher. Historically, Issaquah has done just that.

Get involved

Graduation requirements are likely to remain a conversation topic during the coming months. Keep up with what the school board plans to discuss at www.issaquah.wednet.edu and clicking on the “School Board” tab. Email the school board at schoolboard@issaquah.wednet.edu.

If the board does modify science graduation requirements, the changes would not take effect until this year’s seventh-graders don their caps and gowns in 2017.

A friction point in the proposed change is college track students versus noncollege track students.

Some universities have higher expectations than the state. Students who plan to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher may need to take more than two years of science before leaving high school.

“I don’t think we are serving the kids by keeping the bar where it is. I think our community is ready for it,” Deagle said. “We are selling our kids short by having diploma requirements that are not adequate for setting them up to go into the world.”

But other members are concerned that a one-size-fits-all plan doesn’t work for everyone. Some students, board members said, do not plan to go to college, and that can be the right choice for them.

“If they don’t want to go to college,” Magendanz said, “I don’t want to force them onto that track.”

Most Issaquah district teens are already on that track. Eighty-seven percent of the high school students in the district take three or more years of science.

Board member Marnie Maraldo said she is concerned about what changing the requirement would mean to the other 13 percent.

“We have kids who are barely graduating,” she said. “You are cursing them by saying we are raising the bar higher than you are able to jump … there has to be options for these kids.”

Precedent for  tougher standards

The Issaquah School District already requires more of its graduates than state standards in the areas of English and social studies. While the state requires students to complete three credits of English, all Issaquah students have to take four. The state’s standard for social studies is two and a half credits. At Liberty and Tiger Mountain Community high schools, students have to take three and a half credits of social studies. At Issaquah and Skyline the requirement is three credits.

Issaquah made the switch to three credits of math before the state eventually made the change as well.

While Washington mandates that all graduates take 20 credits total, students graduating from Issaquah and Skyline high schools have to complete 22. Because of its block schedule that allows for eight classes a semester, instead of the traditional six, Liberty High School requires its students to have 28 credits to reach graduation day. Like the state, Tiger Mountain Community High School requires 20 credits.

Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242, or ltucker@sammamishreview.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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