A new Washington law requires state public colleges to give students college credit for taking certain classes in high school. But lawmakers and colleges are locked in a disagreement over how the law should be interpreted.
When Sadie Kim took the most demanding courses at her high school and earned a prestigious International Baccalaureate diploma this spring, she expected to receive enough college credit to give her sophomore standing at the University of Washington.
In fact, she believed that a new state law championed by students at her school, Edmonds-Woodway High, would guarantee it.
But Kim and other students say some college advisers have told them they won’t get credit for all the college-level courses they took — even when they quote the law back to their advisers.
The law has generated so much confusion that five state legislators sent a letter last week to the state’s colleges and universities, spelling out how they should interpret the new International Baccalaureate (IB) law. It is based on a year-old law that determines how college credit should be granted for passing scores on Advanced Placement (AP) exams.
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Legislators say the law is clear — clear enough to allow colleges to make decisions about awarding credit. But the colleges say not so fast. Give us time to sort it out.
Getting college credit for a course taken in high school can save students hundreds or thousands in tuition dollars, allow them to move through a program faster or begin taking advanced courses as early as freshman year. For Kim, it may make it easier to major in two subjects.
Colleges say they don’t want to grant credit for courses that don’t meet their standards. But it’s also true that large, introductory courses are moneymakers for universities.
The schools say they need at least a few months for faculty members to evaluate the IB exams and make decisions, and that they believe the law gave them the time and autonomy to do so.
“I thought our agreement was … full institutional autonomy,” said Cody Eccles, director of government relations and business affairs for the Council of Presidents. The council is a coordinating agency that assists the state’s six public four-year colleges in setting policy.
The six public schools, with the help of the Council of Presidents, are studying the IB courses to answer questions by later this year or early next year, Eccles said: Which IB courses should garner full credit as a stand-in for a similar college course — such as one that can count as a core requirement for graduation? And which should count as elective credits?
The legislation asks the schools to evaluate giving credit “for a larger number of IB exams … and lower cut scores than we currently consider,” said Janice DeCosmo, the associate dean of undergraduate academic affairs at the UW, in an email. She said the faculty is working on those evaluations.
In the meantime, the council has told institutions to follow its existing policy, which gives college credit only to IB scores of 5 or higher on certain tests.
But that’s not what legislators intended, said state Rep. Laurie Dolan, D-Olympia, who sponsored the IB legislation. She is one of five lawmakers who signed the letter saying that four-year universities and two-year community colleges should award credit for a 4 or higher on IB exams, unless the school has “significant evidence” that the course doesn’t meet college criteria. A 4 or higher should at least count for elective credit, the letter says.
“These are smart kids who are saying we are willing to do the hardest work you can give us,” said Dolan. “When students are willing to work that hard, and get dual credit, we should honor it.” (Dual credit is the term for college-level classes taught in high school, intended to give both high-school and college credit.)
DeCosmo said the UW would update its website to show which courses will count for credit as soon as the evaluations are finished.
In Washington, 23 public and private high schools offer IB. The program includes two types of courses — the one-year “standard level” classes, and the two-year “higher level” classes, both of which are college level. Students who want to earn an IB diploma take a mix of both, while those who want to add IB classes to their transcripts can take either.
Among the signers of the letter is Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, who said he wanted to protect the faculty’s autonomy — but also wanted to make sure the state schools weren’t rejecting some courses without providing evidence for why they made that decision. Pollet also teaches at the UW’s School of Public Health.
He said there are good reasons to only grant elective credit for some courses, but the colleges need to articulate those reasons. As an example, he cited AP’s U.S. history course, which devotes only two classes to race relations in America. That theme is woven throughout the UW’s own course on American history, which is why the UW wants history majors to take the university history course, he said.
Pollet recalled how a half-dozen IB students dropped in on one of his regular Saturday open sessions for constituents to argue for their course credits. He said he found them “very, very impressive.”
In many other states, including Oregon, policies have been in place for as long as a decade that govern how credit for IB and AP classes is awarded, said David Quinn, who coordinates the IB program at Edmonds-Woodway. Quinn says he thinks the universities here are “slow-rolling” the approval process.
The year-old AP law required colleges to give at least elective credit for an exam score of 3 or higher (out of 5), but some students say they’re not getting credit for those classes, either. For example, Lucas Dini, a sophomore at the UW, says he didn’t get credit for AP World History and AP English: Language and Composition, even though he scored a 3 on both.
State Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, who sponsored both the AP and IB bills, said he’s heard enough stories like Kim’s and Dini’s that he has brought the credit-granting issue before the legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee. That committee could decide to audit how courses are being credited.
Kim, the UW-bound Edmonds-Woodway student, was counting on the credits to either help her graduate early or allow her to fulfill course requirements she’ll need to double major in science and a language.
“I’ve been reading the bill, I know what’s in it and it’s been in effect for a month,” Kim said. “I’ve been telling my friends — make sure you know this is the law. You’ve got to get some credit.”