Don’t lower bar for diplomas

Change is rarely simple. Take the transition that Washington state high school students, their parents and their teachers are having to endure as the state moves from its current system of assessment and graduation requirements to the new Smarter Balanced Assessments that are given in the eighth and 11th grades.

During the transition, high school students are having to take tests in the 10th-grade for English language reading and writing, mathematics and biology. The new Smarter Balanced tests for English and math are administered in students’ junior year. And a new comprehensive science test will soon replace the biology-only exam.

Previously, we’ve noted the improvements that the Smarter Balanced Assessment provides, including four levels of accomplishment that guide future instruction and planning for college and career.

Admittedly, that’s a lot of testing, and it is taking up more class time now than it will when the transition is complete.

As the Legislature works to develop a plan to move toward full funding of education, it’s proper that it address the workings of education, too. But a bill passed by the House in the first special session with the goal of simplifying the testing regimen goes too far and too quickly and would weaken graduation requirements and further complicate implementation of the new assessments.

House Bill 2214 would eliminate the 10th-grade tests and also attempts to simplify the graduation requirement alternatives for those who don’t pass the 11th-grade assessments. Currently students who don’t pass are given an opportunity to retake the exams, present a portfolio of their accomplishments or take and pass college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT. The bill would eliminate most of those paths in favor of requiring students who miss the mark on the tests to take and pass courses that “align with their college or career goals.”

While the bill passed the House in the first special session it died in the Senate before last week’s close. But it was reintroduced for the current special session and could be revisited.

In seeking the bill’s passage, House members estimated about 2,000 students in the class of 2015 will not get their diplomas this spring if it does not become law. While no one wants to see a student denied a diploma, it’s hard to understand how easing the graduation requirement helps. Presumably those students who struggled with the tests in their sophomore or junior year have had one to two years to get the help they need and meet the graduation requirements. Giving them a free pass now allows them to walk at commencement but gives them no guarantee that they’ve learned what they need to know as they are move on, regardless of whether that’s college or a career.

There may be ways to simplify and ease the burden on students, teachers and parents, but eliminating the value of testing as part of the requirement for graduation does no student any favor.

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