Mountlake Terrace sophomore Tommy Tran reads and takes notes during a World History 10 class on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 in Mountlake Terrace, Wa. The number of high school credits required to graduate is increasing to 24 at the state level for the class of 2019. With a standard schedule of six daily classes for four years, a student would need to pass every course. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Mountlake Terrace sophomore Tommy Tran reads and takes notes during a World History 10 class on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 in Mountlake Terrace, Wa. The number of high school credits required to graduate is increasing to 24 at the state level for the class of 2019. With a standard schedule of six daily classes for four years, a student would need to pass every course. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

No room for error: Students need more credits to graduate

Schools are boosting existing programs and adding new ones to help students keep up.

There won’t be room for failure anymore.

The number of high school credits required to graduate is increasing to 24 at the state level. With a standard schedule of six daily classes for four years, a student would need to pass every course.

The new threshold takes effect for the class of 2019. However, many school districts received a two-year waiver, so this year’s sophomores will be the first to need 24 credits.

Monroe and Northshore schools do not have waivers. The requirement is for this year’s seniors.

The statewide change is an increase from 20 credits. Local schools already have a higher standard, including Everett and Edmonds, where students need 22 credits.

Educators around the county say they recognize that students aren’t perfect; those who struggle in a subject or miss school days will lose credit. And teens who excel want freedom in their schedules for electives.

In the reasoning for 24 credits, state officials noted that a high school diploma should signal readiness for college and the workforce.

Schools are boosting existing programs and adding new ones to help students keep up.

“To say you have to hit the ground running at 14, it’s hard,” said Rebecca DeLaney, who advises students at Granite Falls High School. “You want them all to walk through the door and be amazing, but it’s hard.”

Options for students around the county may include: earning high school credit for certain middle school classes; taking extra lessons before or after school, or in the summer; passing tests to show competency in subjects such as foreign languages; or taking summer or online courses to make up credits.

DeLaney marks pages in a black binder with blue tabs to track students who are more than half a credit behind.

A couple of dozen tabs stick out from the binder.

Fellow Granite Falls adviser Ginny Schlegel estimates that one of every five freshmen and sophomores will be directly affected by the increased requirement.

Sophomore Owen Dittrick, 15, is one. He stumbled in freshman algebra — an experience many students can relate to, based on state data about math performance. He plans to take a summer math class.

He’ll be taking driver education after school, too, which now counts for a half credit. Another effort, started this year, is a fifth-period class that focuses on skills to succeed. It also offers time to complete assignments that require computers, the internet and other tools. Dittrick is in that class.

He moved to Granite Falls from Snohomish near the beginning of his freshman year. The teen, who enjoys skateboarding and snowboarding, said he has friends who are affected by the new requirements, too. When he first started high school, he didn’t realize how important it would be to pass every class. Now, he gets it.

“It’s easier to stay afloat than to have to swim back up,” he said.

The Edmonds School District formed a new group to focus on the 24-credit standard. Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab sent a message to families with students in seventh to tenth grade, inviting them to join. The new threshold “leaves no room for error,” he wrote.

Tommy Tran, 15, is one of the students in the group. The sophomore at Mountlake Terrace High School said he is on track with credits, but worries for others. Topics where many of his peers struggle — math and science — are Tran’s favorites. He aims to become an aerospace engineer.

But he knows classmates who have failed a class. It’s now harder for them to catch up, he said.

“I’m seeing it as more of a burden,” he said. “Current tenth graders and below can’t fail a class. If they fail one class, they can’t graduate unless they take credit retrieval or summer school.”

He’d like the advisory group to consider a schedule change, maybe moving to seven classes per day or to trimesters instead of semesters. It would make more room for electives, too, he said.

The group plans to meet monthly and has been asked to provide recommendations to the school board in April. The first meeting drew 33 people.

In Lake Stevens, the jump to 24 credits is more of a step. The district has required 23½ credits since the class of 2014.

“We really want to make sure kids are going to get a well-rounded, full experience and not just meet the requirements,” said John Gebert, executive director of secondary teaching and learning.

Lake Stevens students take Washington state history in eighth grade and can take high school math as early as seventh grade.

The district recently passed a policy allowing two-for-one classes. Certain courses, after they’re vetted by a committee, can meet two subject requirements in a single credit. For example, a photography class could count for fine arts and career and technical education. Several two-for-one classes are expected to be available as soon as next year.

Lake Stevens also offers language competency testing. Students who speak, read and write a foreign language can prove their fluency for credits. Other districts do testing, as well, and hundreds of students around the county have earned credits in dozens of languages. Last year in Lake Stevens, 16 students tested in nine languages and earned 46 total credits.

Though early, extra and make-up credits are important options, the focus — and challenge — is helping students pass classes on the first try, according to multiple districts.

If a student misses a credit, it’s already cause for concern, said Schlegel and Delaney, in Granite Falls. But students will fall behind quicker when the requirement is 24 instead of 22½, the current threshold there, Schlegel said.

“Freshman year is a hard transition,” Delaney said. “That credit-and-a-half, that was that growing up year. Now, there’s no buffer. You just have to get it.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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