Politics & Government

Here’s how kids who failed state math and reading tests still can graduate from high school

A 12-year-old student in Maryland works on a computer-based test in this Feb. 12, 2015 photo. Washington state has created a new way for some high school students who fail state tests in math and English to graduate from high school anyway.
A 12-year-old student in Maryland works on a computer-based test in this Feb. 12, 2015 photo. Washington state has created a new way for some high school students who fail state tests in math and English to graduate from high school anyway. AP

The call caused one former Puyallup student to burst into tears — the joyful kind.

School districts throughout Washington state are contacting students who failed the state’s standardized tests with some welcome news: You may still be able to earn your high school diploma.

It’s all due to a state law that passed earlier this year, which allows certain seniors who met all other graduation standards to apply for a waiver from the state’s math and English language arts testing requirements.

Students — or their parents — can contact a high school counselor, high school principal or school district office if they think they or their child might qualify for a waiver, officials in several districts said this week.

“We want to make sure they know the door has opened, or that potentially the door has opened, and they might have an opportunity to graduate,” said Jennifer Bethman, the assistant superintendent of secondary schools for the Bethel School District.

Students in the classes of 2014 through 2017 might be eligible for the expedited appeals process if any of the following things apply to them:

  • They’ve successfully completed a college-level class in the subject in which they failed the test. (Dual-credit courses and Advanced Placement courses count.)
  • They’ve already been admitted to a higher education institution (including a community college), or a career-preparation program.
  • They’ve been awarded a scholarship for higher education or college.
  • They’ve enlisted in a branch of the military.

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) released some guidance late last month on how school districts should implement the new law. As of last week, however, OSPI officials didn’t have a solid estimate for how many students statewide might be eligible for the testing waiver.

Individual school districts said they’re already identifying students who might qualify and contacting them to start the paperwork.

In Puyallup, district officials have reached out to three students from the classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017, said district spokesman Brian Fox.

One of those students has been trying for months to figure out how to attend college without a diploma, Fox said.

When that student got the call from the school district, he cried, Fox said.

“It’s been an emotional journey for him, so this phone call really resulted in tears,” Fox said. “It’s huge.”

Once students fill out the necessary forms, district officials can submit their appeal applications to OSPI, said Courtney Schrieve, a spokeswoman for North Thurston Public Schools.

For the students’ applications to be approved, the school district has to certify that they are college or career-ready, despite having failed one or both of the tests, she said.

“They have to have passed all their classes, they have to have met all the other graduation requirements,” Schrieve said.

That might mean that few students in are eligible in most districts. In Franklin Pierce School District, for instance, officials are working with three students on appeals, said district spokesman Willie Painter.

In the Olympia School District, it doesn’t appear as if any students in the classes of 2014 to 2017 would qualify, said district spokeswoman Susan Gifford.

“If there were students who had not passed the state’s math and/or ELA tests, they were credit deficient in other areas,” Gifford wrote in an email, using the acronym for the state’s English and language arts assessment.

Bethman, the assistant superintendent in the Bethel School District, said her district also is contacting students who might be half a credit or one credit shy of graduating.

She said some of those students might have quit working on their last credit or two because they got discouraged over failing one or both of the tests.

Knowing that they can get a break on the assessments might help push them over the finish line, she said.

Other school districts still are reviewing the guidance from OSPI to figure out how to handle the waivers.

Kim Prentice, a spokeswoman for the Clover Park School District, said district officials there are verifying how many students might qualify and “hoping for more definitive information from OSPI.”

“Once we receive some clarification, we will develop a process by which students can apply,” she said.

Tacoma Public Schools is in a similar place, spokesman Dan Voelpel said. Right now, the district is still reviewing OSPI’s guidance, he said.

In the meantime, Voelpel said, current or former Tacoma students who are wondering if they qualify should contact their school’s counselor.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1