The Washington State Board of Education wants lawmakers to get rid of a biology graduation requirement based on outdated standards.
More than 2,000 students in Washington won’t graduate from high school this June because they can’t pass the state’s biology test.
That’s what the Washington State Board of Education is telling lawmakers in a letter emailed last week urging them to approve House Bill 1950, which would eliminate passing the test as a graduation requirement.
Earlier this year, the state board started lobbying lawmakers to abolish the old exam, saying that focusing on biology undermines broader coursework in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM courses). This recent letter ramps up the pressure.
But a spokesman for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction questions the board’s number, saying many of the 2,000 students could face other hurdles to graduation, not just passing the biology test.
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Meanwhile, the state is working on a new comprehensive science exam, one that will test Washington’s new science standards, which include more than biology. They’re based on the Next Generation Science Standards, a multi-state effort to outline the big concepts and key practices that scientists and engineers use to solve problems.
But the timeline is still being worked out, so the old exams are still in effect.
Most seniors meet the current biology requirement by passing a mostly multiple choice End-of-Course exam, which they first take in 10th grade and can continue taking until they pass it. About 70 percent of Washington students in all grades who took the end-of-course biology exam last year passed it.
Students who fail the end-of-course exam can take an alternative approved by the Legislature called a Collection of Evidence. That exam covers the same material, but in a different way that more closely resembles classroom work. For example, students answer questions in their own words and can take different parts of the test at different times instead of all at once.
About two-thirds of the students who took took the Collection of Evidence this winter failed it, according to results released last month, prompting the state board of education’s latest plea to the Legislature. The letter says the dismal results were about the same last year when the test was first given.
State education board member Holly Koon, a National Board Certified science teacher at Mount Baker High School in Deming, authored the letter to lawmakers.
She notes that students who fail to meet math and English standards continue taking classes in those subjects and re-taking the tests, but generally students don’t take any more biology classes, which widens the gap between the original instruction and the re-takes.