The Washington legislature has overwhelmingly approved a bill that eliminates certain high school graduation requirements regarding state assessments. Supporters say it will encourage stronger focus on student learning and engagement and improve the state’s graduation rate. The latest overall graduation rate as of 2018 is 80 percent, a four percent increase from 2012.
ESSHB 1599 introduced by Majority Floor Leader Monica Stonier (D-49) first cleared the House on Mar. 8 with a 91-4 vote. The bill was later amended by the Senate and unanimously passed by that chamber on April 15. The House on April 22 voted to concur with the revisions.
During the 2017 legislative session there were two House bills that also looked at removing testing requirements for graduation. Both cleared that chamber but failed to get a Senate vote.
Under the final version, Washington high school students will no longer be required to obtain a certificate of academic achievement (CAA) to graduate, starting with the 2020 class. Since 2008, students have had to meet proficiency standards on English, science and mathematic assessments in order to get a CAA. However, students will continue to take the tests. Proficiency in the science assessment was to be required for graduation starting with the class of 2015, but it was delayed twice by the legislature until the 2021 class.
The bill also revises graduation requirements pertaining to a 24-credit framework created by the State Board of Education that has recently taken effect, along with High School and Beyond Plans (HSBP) students must complete in order to graduate.
ESSHB 1599 also directs SBE to create by July a work group examining barriers to mastery-based learning, or learning where “students advance upon demonstrated mastery of content.” The work group would look at ways to improve student access to that type of learning, particularly regarding HSBPs. An interim report would be due to the governor and legislature by December, and a final report by the end of 2020.
On April 22, Stonier told colleagues that the bill will make “teachers free to teach, and we will finally have clear pathways for students to graduation pathways.”
Rep. Mike Steele (R-12) remarked that “there are still some concerns around some of the rigor with both the A.P. and IP classes. Those I think we can work on addressing in future sessions, but we are absolutely in support of the tremendous work that’s been done on refining these pathways both in the House here and in the Senate. I think it’s a great opportunity for our students.”
Among those testifying in favor of the bill during its Mar. 12 public hearing in Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education were the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Association of Washington Business and Washington State School Directors’ Association. Testifying “other” were several members of the Washington State Board of Education and Washington Roundtable Vice President Neil Strege.