This spring’s high school seniors will get a pass on some graduation requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the state’s colleges and universities are adjusting admissions rules to ensure no student’s plans are derailed by these highly unusual times.

These rule changes are intended to minimize the harm suffered by students whose academic pursuits have been upended by school closures and social distancing.

Many high school seniors are notified they have been accepted to college, but that is conditional. Colleges and universities generally set summer deadlines for these incoming freshmen to submit official high school transcripts showing they completed required coursework and maintained adequate grade point averages. Those who do not risk having their acceptance withdrawn.

But school closures and uneven district efforts to continue education remotely are expected to complicate this well-established routine, as high schools figure out how to award grades for spring semester classes that were interrupted around midterm and to process official transcripts during quarantine.

Other considerations include the granting of Advanced Placement credits for students whose course instruction was unexpectedly interrupted and disruptions in the administration of college placement exams like the SAT for next year’s applicants.


But the short-term fixes can be only the first step. It will be equally important to study and mitigate the long-term consequences of major, if temporary, changes to graduation and admissions policies in future classes, such as waiving standardized test requirements and an increase in pass/fail credits, as opposed to letter grades, for this school year.

The spread of coronavirus has pushed Washington into an unprecedented educational experiment, as hundreds of school districts serving 1.2 million K-12 students shift to learning from home. This change will test many core assumptions about education best practices, as traditional benchmarks — like standardized test results — are forced to give way to practical considerations.

Last year, the Washington State Board of Education modified standards to include several paths to graduation. Earlier this month, the board voted to give school districts even more latitude for this year’s seniors, creating waivers for credit requirements under emergency rules.

The state’s public and private colleges and universities have pledged not to penalize 2020 graduates for application shortcomings caused by the response to COVID-19, and to identify potential impacts to the classes of 2021-22, according to a joint statement from the Washington State Council of Presidents and Independent Colleges of Washington. The exact changes to admissions vary by institution and include deadline extensions for official transcripts, waiving ACT/SAT score requirements for fall 2021 applicants and allowing more pass/fail credits. These are necessary concessions for students unable to meet previous requirements through no fault of their own.

At the same time, the intent of these benchmarks is to ensure incoming freshmen are adequately prepared for college coursework. Without these traditional assurances, institutions must find other ways to ensure new students aren’t getting in over their heads.