Standardized assessments are required by the federal government to measure the performance of the education system as a whole. They were never meant to be used to prove a student had earned a diploma.
AN estimated 5,500 high school seniors across Washington state are at risk of not receiving a diploma in the coming weeks due to a failure in state law and an even bigger failure of the Legislature to fix the problem.
Over two decades ago, state lawmakers enacted a number of education reforms in an effort to boost academic achievement and student accountability. One of those reforms directly linked earning a high school diploma with passing standardized tests in English and language arts, math and biology.
As it turns out, there are several major flaws with this policy and thousands of well-deserving students will not receive their high school diplomas unless the Legislature takes immediate action.
In addition to the 5,500 students, there is a larger group of students — roughly 10,000 — who have a “credit deficit,” meaning they didn’t pass a class, didn’t finish a district requirement or a senior project and also may have failed one of the graduation tests.
Standardized assessments are required by the federal government to measure the performance of the education system as a whole. They were never meant to be used as an individual exit exam that a student would take to prove she or he has a diploma.
Also, some students are simply not great at taking tests. Many have high GPAs, robust vocabularies and critical thinking skills, but when put in a high-pressure environment with a No. 2 pencil and a Scantron sheet, they freeze up. Research shows high-stakes tests have a disproportionate negative impact on students in poverty and those learning English, regardless of their actual academic abilities.
Standardized tests have a place in our education system. But linking them to graduation was a mistake, resulting in inhibited educational opportunities for our kids.
Instead of using valuable class time preparing our students for brighter futures by teaching them to apply the skills they learn in class, educators are forced to spend time teaching kids how to be good test takers. Countless hours are wasted preparing for these tests, and our state wastes $10 million a year on a failed assessment process.
High-stakes standardized tests, as they are administered today, take away opportunities for student success and act as barriers to the next stages in their futures.
We can do better.
Washington’s economy is growing. Our state’s community and technical colleges, apprenticeship programs and four-year universities are among the best in the nation. They are well positioned to launch Washington’s next generation into the thousands of current high-paying job openings across the state.
That is, of course, assuming students who have clearly earned a high school diploma actually receive it at the end of the school year.
The House of Representatives has tried — three separate times — to give hope to these students by passing HB 1046. The bill, sponsored by our colleague Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, would delink all standardized assessments from graduation.
As the Democratic vice chairs of the House Education Committee, we made this Republican-sponsored bill a top priority this session. It received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House.
The most recent vote was 89-5.
We have no doubt that HB 1046 would get bipartisan support in the Senate if it has an opportunity for a vote. That vote, however, has been held up by Republican leadership in the Senate.
Lawmakers must remove these unnecessary barriers to learning.
There are multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned in school. Teachers are skilled at finding innovative and challenging ways for students to demonstrate proficiency.
The debate really comes down to one question: Do we trust teachers and school administrators to do their jobs and make the right decisions when it comes to awarding diplomas?
We do. And the Senate should, too.
The state needs to get out of the way and let teachers do what they do best — provide opportunities for every child to reach their dreams.
If you want to give hope to thousands of high school seniors, we encourage you to contact legislative leaders — 800-562-6000 — and ask that HB 1046 be brought up for an immediate floor vote.
No more politics. No more games. Thousands of bright, young futures are at stake.