Bill would revise graduation requirements

Stonier says a career focus could reduce school dropout rates

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

 
photoRep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver

High school graduation requirements have caught the eye of state Rep. Monica Stonier, who is working on a bill to replace some traditional course requirements with classes specific to a student's career of choice.

The Vancouver Democrat's bill would replace the requirement that high school students take nearly six elective credits with a requirement that they take six "career concentration" credits. Those career-focused credits would need to relate to a specific career, trade program or post-secondary education the student plans to embark upon after graduation.

Stonier said her proposal could reduce dropout rates by helping students who are not university-bound see the value in staying in school to prepare for a specific job after graduation. When students drop out of school, they are often headed to a life of poverty, and they become a burden on the taxpayer, she added.

"I'm concerned about those kids who are not going to a four-year university, and I want to make sure that they have the flexibility in their credit load that they need to have a diploma that will get them on the path of their choosing," said Stonier, who also works as a teaching coach for Evergreen Public Schools.

For students who want to attend a four-year university, the bill would allow educators to recommend career concentration credits that include art, science, world language or elective courses.

House Bill 1656 also would increase the overall number of required English credits from three to four.

Those speaking in opposition to Stonier's bill during a public hearing last week said the proposal would stifle other graduation requirement reforms that are expected to take effect in 2016. Those rules, adopted by the State Board of Education in 2011, increase the total high school credit requirement from 20 to 24, and are intended to give students across the state a higher quality education.

Stonier's bill would drop that total credit requirement to 22.

Ramona Hattendorf of the Washington State PTA said the reforms passed in 2011 allow for flexibility in the credit requirements, so students soon will be able to tailor their high school education to a specific career path. For example, students would have to take two required math courses, but they could pick from a variety of math classes to satisfy their third credit requirement. They also could swap an arts credit for an elective, she said.

"I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about what our graduation requirements are," Hattendorf said. "You're going to get what you want if we already implement what we have. We're already there, and we don't have to go through this process again."

But the reforms that will take effect in 2016 still aren't fair to students who aren't college-bound, Stonier said in response.

During the public hearing last week, 13 people or organizations expressed support for the bill, while five opposed it, including a representative from the board of education.

If approved, the bill would cost the state $25,000 to adopt the changes and make the public aware of them, according to the state Department of Revenue. If the bill results in more students' enrolling in technical training courses, that could cost the state more money yet, because technical classes are more costly to support.

Stonier's bill has been signed by 17 other House members, including Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Liz Pike, R-Camas; and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote Thursday, one day before the deadline for bills to pass out of committee in their house of origin.

Stonier, a rookie legislator, serves as vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee.

"I'm really excited about this bill," Stonier said. "This is the work that I came here to do in the Legislature."

To graduate, Washington high-schoolers must receive three credits in English, three credits in math, two credits in science, two and a half credits in social studies, two credits in health and fitness, one credit in the arts, one credit in occupational education and five and a half elective credits. Most high school classes are worth one credit per year, or a half-credit per semester.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu;http://twitter.com/col_politics;stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.