State looks at way to save graduation for 1,800

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If a student isn't in school, he won't be learning.

Jesus Celes took biology in high school and got a B for the course.

He took the state “end-of-course” test in biology twice this school year, and failed it by one point both times. Celes, who wants to go to college, cannot graduate from Washington High School in Tacoma.

“When I see this holding me and my classmates back, it’s heartbreaking for me,” Celes said at Thursday press conference held by Reps. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia, and David Taylor, R-Moxee.

Reykdal and Taylor are the prime sponsors of a bill to overhaul the end-of-course testing requirements for high school graduation. This is the first year that the biology exam has stood in the way of graduation.

The Washington House passed it 87-7 on May 27, one day prior to the Legislature’s first 30-day special session expiring. The advent of the current second 30-day special session required that the House pass the bill again 83-6 Thursday to go to the Senate. Taylor and Reykdal held their press conference to urge the Senate to pass the bill before the second special session ends June 28.

But Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island and chair of the Senate’s Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, opposes the bill. “Lowering standards is a poor excuse for a decades-long failure to create an education system that works for everyone,” he said in a written statement.

Later in the statement, Litzow said: “Assessment results based on objective standards provide meaningful feedback to students, teachers and parents on what material and skills the children know and what they need more help with. Sending students to seek jobs or to take college classes with a diploma but unprepared to do the work does a major disservice to students, our higher education institutions, employers and our K-12 system as whole. Telling all children it is okay not to know the material because the Legislature will change the rules to provide a diploma anyway so the adults in the system look better is not a good lesson for our children.”

At least 1,800 high school seniors are estimated to be unable to graduate this year because they could not pass the state’s biology end-of-course exam.

Reykdal and Taylor’s bill calls for removing that exam and a graduation requirement and calls for the development and phasing in of a comprehensive science assessment in its place. The bill also has an emergency clause to allow the seniors failing the biology end-of-course exam in the class of 2015 to be allowed to graduate.

The bill also would discontinue the 10th grade reading, writing and mathematics assessments after the current school year. Starting the next school year, the bill would allow a student scoring a 3 or 4 on the 11th grade Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium’s English and mathematics assessments to be eligible to graduate. The bill also provides students failing those tests with options on how to address their needs in order to graduate.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8