Yakima high school senior’s project: Change state law

OLYMPIA — A 17-year-old Yakima County high school student is probably not the first student to do her senior project on ending senior projects.

She, however, is the first to persuade the Legislature to go along.

The Tacoma News Tribune reported Saturday that Tiffany Stewart along with her stepfather, Republican Rep. David Taylor, spearheaded lobbying efforts to change state law requiring senior projects.

A political ally of Taylor sponsored a bill, but the measure didn’t go anywhere. On a recommendation from a Seattle Democrat, however, the bill was turned into an amendment inside another education bill.

That measure was approved and is due to be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee next week. Under the measure, a senior project would be optional for school districts. If the measure goes into law, the class of 2015 would be the first to avoid the extra work.

“The bill goes into effect in 2015. So if everything goes right, then next year, this year’s juniors won’t have to do it,” said Stewart, who is senior at East Valley High School near Yakima. “I’ve had the juniors and the sophomores and even some of the freshmen come up to me and give me a hug or a high five.”

Districts would have to change their policies. Many are “deeply invested in it,” said Ben Rarick, executive director of the State Board of Education, while others view it “as a compliance hurdle.”

The state board created the requirement for a culminating project in 2000 for the class of 2008 and their successors. A senior project requires students to apply their lessons to show they are the creative, problem-solving critical thinkers the state wants, Rarick said.

Opponents in the Legislature describe it as an unfunded mandate for districts.

Besides taking up class time, Stewart said many students can’t afford to do the projects when they could be working, or to spend the money that some students choose to invest in a project.

Others just blow it off and do the bare minimum, she said.

“I’ve heard stories about kids frosting cupcakes, kids making quilts, just not putting a whole bunch of effort into it and jumping through the hoops they have to jump through to graduate,” Stewart said.

There are no statewide standards for projects. Each district sets its own rules.

Some require community service or job shadowing; others, a research paper. A portfolio of work is a common component, as is a presentation in front of judges.

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