Tests may take toll on thousands of students unless state helps

OLYMPIA — Nearly 6,000 high school seniors in Washington began May in danger of not graduating because they had yet to pass at least one of the state’s three required assessment tests.

Many can erase the threat in the coming weeks by taking and passing an exam in mathematics, language arts or biology.

Yet success will still elude a number of those students and that’s got lawmakers charged up and divided on the use of high-stakes tests in determining who gets a diploma.

There’s desire across political party lines in the House and Senate to modify state rules to help the current graduating class. But there’s sharp disagreement between the two chambers on which laws to change. Unable to resolve their differences in regular session, lawmakers remain at odds in the special session that is halfway over.

The House wants to stop requiring students to pass all three tests at some point in their academic journey in order to graduate. A Republican-sponsored bill to decouple those tests from the state’s requirements passed on an 89-4 vote Tuesday.

In the Senate, the Republican majority that has in the past been reticent to ease any testing requirement backs a bill getting rid of the biology test requirement until 2021. That’s when a new science standard will be in place and along with it a new assessment exam. The bill passed on a 45-0 vote Tuesday.

There are no talks planned to reconcile the differences.

If this situation seems familiar, it is. Two years ago, the House also tried to unlink all three tests and GOP senators resisted. The policy face-off kept lawmakers in session until July 9 when Republicans agreed to a two-year delay in the biology test requirement proposed by Democratic senators.

Time has expired, which is why this fight is flaring up again.

“We’re a little more cautious but I think we’re showing some flexibility with biology,” said Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, chairman of the Senate education committee, on Thursday.

He said he hoped the two chambers could agree right away on axing that exam and then keep talking about broader reforms.

“We need to at least take action on (biology),” he said. “It is May, graduation is coming up and a lot of folks are counting on us to do something.”

But when the House debated its bill Tuesday, members called on the Senate to rethink its position because students are struggling to pass all three tests.

“There are many in the other chamber that would like us to just suspend the biology test,” said Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, the ranking Republican on the House education committee. “We need to look at the entire program and make sure that we treat all students equally.”

The precise number of students in danger of not graduating because of the testing requirement is a moving target.

Students have been and will be taking tests this month and next. Some also are pursuing the alternative provided in the law, which involves preparing a portfolio known as the collection of evidence demonstrating their mastery of material covered in the tests.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reported 5,875 students had not passed one or more of the required tests as of May 2.

Of the total, 3,302 students still needed to pass the biology test, 1,603 were missing language arts and 970 were missing math. Totals include students who had completed all other graduation requirements and ones who had not. Those might be students lacking enough total credits to graduate.

In the Everett School District, 61 students had not met the biology requirement as of this week, down from 126 in March, district officials said. In addition, 38 students still needed to pass the math test and 34 needed to pass the reading exam.

These assessments are valuable in focusing students’ attention on a subject and tracking their academic progress, they said. Tying their performance to diplomas tends to heap on pressure without significant benefit in their pursuit of college or career, they said.

“It would be welcome to postpone (them) as a graduation requirement,” said Jeanne Willard, director of college and career readiness and on-time graduation for the district.

Marysville School District had less than 100 students and Northshore School District had 16 needing to pass the biology test.

The president of the Marysville School Board prefers the House approach.

“‘High stakes’ testing should not determine graduation from high school,” said board President Pete Lundberg in a statement provided by the district.

“All learners are different, have different skills, learning styles and abilities. They learn in different ways, at different rates and times,” he wrote. “Attaching graduation to one particular test, given on one day, at one time, in one way, does not allow for individual differences. In many ways it’s a false read. It disrespects the individuality of learners, and has little correlation to success in life.”

In Olympia, business leaders and education reform groups argue the use of high-stakes tests is helping increase graduation rates across the state.

To break the link would put more graduates at risk of leaving high school unable to demonstrate basic reading, writing, and math concepts, wrote Washington Roundtable president Steve Mullin in an April 11 email to lawmakers. The round table is a nonprofit organization comprised of senior executives of major businesses in the state.

“In our view, this is not a better outcome for students,” he wrote. “Students who must take remedial classes in our community and technical college system are much less likely to persist to a credential than students who arrive ready to take credit-bearing classes.

“Washington has required an assessment-based graduation requirement for almost a decade and over that period more students are graduating from high school and they are achieving at higher levels,” he wrote. “A link between high school assessments and graduation is essential to making continued progress.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Oso man gets 1 year of probation for killing abusive father

Prosecutors and defense agreed on zero days in jail, citing documented abuse Garner Melum suffered at his father’s hands.

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin steps back and takes in a standing ovation after delivering the State of the City Address on Thursday, March 21, 2024, at the Everett Mall in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
In meeting, Everett mayor confirms Topgolf, Chicken N Pickle rumors

This month, the mayor confirmed she was hopeful Topgolf “would be a fantastic new entertainment partner located right next to the cinemas.”

Alan Edward Dean, convicted of the 1993 murder of Melissa Lee, professes his innocence in the courtroom during his sentencing Wednesday, April 24, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Bothell man gets 26 years in cold case murder of Melissa Lee, 15

“I’m innocent, not guilty. … They planted that DNA. I’ve been framed,” said Alan Edward Dean, as he was sentenced for the 1993 murder.

FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Sept. 30, 2020. Boeing said Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, that it took more than 200 net orders for passenger airplanes in December and finished 2022 with its best year since 2018, which was before two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jet and a pandemic that choked off demand for new planes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing’s $3.9B cash burn adds urgency to revival plan

Boeing’s first three months of the year have been overshadowed by the fallout from a near-catastrophic incident in January.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Bail set at $2M in wrong-way crash that killed Lynnwood woman, 83

The Kenmore man, 37, fled police, crashed into a GMC Yukon and killed Trudy Slanger on Highway 525, according to court papers.

A voter turns in a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On fourth try, Arlington Heights voters overwhelmingly pass fire levy

Meanwhile, in another ballot that gave North County voters deja vu, Lakewood voters appeared to pass two levies for school funding.

Judge Whitney Rivera, who begins her appointment to Snohomish County Superior Court in May, stands in the Edmonds Municipal Court on Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge thought her clerk ‘needed more challenge’; now, she’s her successor

Whitney Rivera will be the first judge of Pacific Islander descent to serve on the Snohomish County Superior Court bench.

In this Jan. 4, 2019 photo, workers and other officials gather outside the Sky Valley Education Center school in Monroe, Wash., before going inside to collect samples for testing. The samples were tested for PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as dioxins and furans. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Judge halves $784M for women exposed to Monsanto chemicals at Monroe school

Monsanto lawyers argued “arbitrary and excessive” damages in the Sky Valley Education Center case “cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Mukilteo Police Chief Andy Illyn and the graphic he created. He is currently attending the 10-week FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. (Photo provided by Andy Illyn)
Help wanted: Unicorns for ‘pure magic’ career with Mukilteo police

“There’s a whole population who would be amazing police officers” but never considered it, the police chief said.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.