Graduation tests serve a purpose. Don’t give up on them.
ALTHOUGH only 13 states still require high school students to pass exams to earn their diploma, Washington has stayed the course to make sure high school diplomas continue to mean something. Lawmakers should hold onto that ideal and defeat House Bill 1046, which would make the English, math and science exams no longer count for graduation.
From the WASL to the Smarter Balanced assessments, statewide tests have forced Washington school districts and policymakers to pay attention to the achievement gaps between students of different races and economic classes. Yes, the tests are high stakes, but that’s among the reasons students take them seriously.
The exams have resulted in some students not graduating from high school, but many who don’t earn their diplomas in four years are also held up because they have failed classes or haven’t met other requirements. High school has gotten progressively more challenging. So has work and life. Washington shouldn’t let its young people down by lowering the standards and failing to give them the education they need to succeed in life.
Washington’s high school diploma must continue to mean something to employers, colleges and training programs if students are going to use that piece of paper as a ticket to a meaningful career. Statewide tests offer an objective measure of what students are learning and whether schools are supplying the basic education they have promised.
If Washington isn’t ready to use the new, more challenging Smarter Balanced tests as a graduation requirement, then lawmakers should find other ways to smooth the transition to the new tests. If students need more alternatives to passing the exams, then adopt some appropriate alternatives. Some states have taken a more nuanced approach and allow school districts to weight their influence, so tests and credits are considered together for diploma decisions. Now is not the time to abandon the requirement altogether.
Students in some Washington school districts, who have failed to meet the standards in the past, are now making dramatic improvements. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is taking a close look at these outliers. School districts struggling to help whole groups of students pass the tests and earn their diplomas should pay attention to this work and adopt strategies that could help them overcome their achievement gaps as well.
Washington students can, when motivated, work hard enough to reach for a meaningful diploma. Don’t give up on the tests or the students. Focus on whatever it will take to help them succeed.