Washington’s State Board of Education has set a minimum score that students must reach on a new state assessment to earn a high-school diploma.
After a long and sometimes contentious debate, the state Board of Education set new minimum scores Wednesday that high-school students must reach on standardized English and math tests in order to graduate.
The scores are lower than a national consortium recommended would indicate a student is ready for college or a career. State Board members say they represent, in effect, a temporary graduation standard while the state’s students transition to the new, more rigorous Common Core standards.
For the English/language arts exam, a score of 2548 will be the level that incoming 11th-grade students, the class of 2017, must reach to graduate. About 81 percent of Washington 10th-graders who took the test this spring did at least that well.
For math, the minimum graduation score will be 2595, but board members said they want to revisit that number in a year. Because students’ scores in math have been much lower than in English on pilot tests, the requirement to pass the math test doesn’t kick in until this fall’s ninth-graders are set to graduate in 2019.
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Board members acknowledged that their decision could cause confusion among students and parents, and they were dismayed by how many students refused to take the new tests, called Smarter Balanced, this spring.
A large number of 11th- graders skipped the tests or did poorly; the tests were not required for them to graduate. In 22 school districts, more than half the 11th-graders did not take either the math or English exams.
“I think the bottom line here was that the board was trying to be fair,” Ben Rarick, the board’s executive director, said in a news conference after the board meeting. “We’re transitioning between two systems, and there’s a lot of technical data here. The board, from the beginning, has said, ‘How can we be fair to kids?’ ”
Possible scores on the English test range from 2299 to 2795. In order to simplify the scoring, the national consortium that developed the tests broke the scores into four levels, ranging from 1 to 4. The consortium has recommended that a student that scores a level 3 or 4 be considered “college or career ready.”
The State Board’s new English cut score falls in the midrange of level 2. The new math score also falls in the midrange of level 2.
The board eventually expects to move the minimum graduation standard to a level 3, said Isabel Munoz-Colon, executive committee chair of the board. She said the state will ratchet up the rigor on high-school courses gradually.
In the meantime, she said, there’s value to a student in doing well on the tests. For example, state community colleges have agreed to accept a level 3 or higher as indicating a student is ready for college-level math, and students who score that high do not need to take remedial math courses.
Washington adopted the Common Core standards in 2011, and in 2013, the Legislature directed the State Board to set minimum scores for graduation — scores that needed to be lower than the level 3 or 4 “college or career ready” score because high-school students have only been exposed to the Common Core standards for a few years.
The new tests were given statewide for the first time this past spring.