Bill requires fewer tests to graduate from high school

msantos@theolympian.comJune 29, 2013 

Washington’s future high school students will have fewer tests to pass to graduate — but the tests will be harder and more comprehensive.

State lawmakers approved a measure Friday that would move toward using three tests developed by a multi-state consortium as the sole tests students need to receive a high school diploma.

Before the Legislature’s vote Friday, students in the class of 2015 would have been required to pass five end-of-course exams to graduate high school: algebra, geometry, reading, writing and biology.

Under the new testing plan, students in the class of 2015 will be able to graduate with only four tests, while students in the class of 2016 would be able to graduate with only three as the state transitions to relying solely on tests based on the Common Core State Standards.

Ultimately, the class of 2019 will no longer take end-of-course exams, but instead will take one English and language arts assessment, one comprehensive math exam and one science exam based on the Common Core standards, which were developed collaboratively among a group of 25 states.

Washington was already committed to administering two tests based on the Common Core standards starting in 2014-2015 to meet federal requirements. But those tests wouldn’t automatically have been tied to graduation standards.

Had the Legislature not taken action, future Washington students could have been looking at taking seven mandatory tests during their high school careers, said state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, a Seattle Democrat who chairs the House Education Committee.

“I think we understood and shared a common distaste for having seven tests administered to our students — especially when so many of those were high-stakes tests,” Santos said Friday. “Moving to three comprehensive tests as opposed to seven all-over-the-board tests is a good goal.”

Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said that the advantage of using tests based on Common Core standards is that Washington will have a clearer picture of how well its students are performing nationally, since other states will be using the same tests.

“We can hold ourselves accountable — we can look at how we’re doing and compare it to other states,” said Dammeier, the vice chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft the final testing bill.

Reducing the number of tests students take should also save the state money. The new testing policy is estimated to save the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction $31 million in 2015 and about $35 million each year after that, according to a fiscal analysis by the agency.

“Getting those tests to do double-duty, and save money? That’s a win,” Dammeier said Friday.

Originally, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn had asked the Legislature to reduce the number of tests that his office administers, given that the state was about to introduce new tests based on the Common Core. But he expressed concern that using the Common Core tests as a graduation requirement might cause more students to fail, as the tests are more difficult than the tests the state administers today.

The revised bill will let the State Board of Education establish two different minimum scores for the Common Core tests — one that indicates that a student is ready to graduate high school, and the other that indicates they’re ready for college.

“We’re fine with the bill,” said Nathan Olson, spokesman for Dorn. “They’re recognizing that there might be two cut scores now — there might be one for graduation, and there might be a different one for college and career readiness.”

There also is a longer transition period built into the bill. As the state moves to the new Common Core tests, students in the graduating classes of 2015 to 2018 will have to pass only one of the end-of-course math assessments, rather than both the algebra and geometry tests. Students in the class of 2016 will also be able to use the Common Core language arts and math tests in place of the equivalent end-of-course exams.

The bill now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for his signature.

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