State high school graduation requirements
• Pass all state assessments/exams.
• Earn all required state and local credits.
• Complete a culminating project, also known as a senior project.
• Complete a high school and beyond plan.
State testing requirements
• Classes of 2013 and 2014: State exam in reading and writing and one end-of-course (EOC) exam in math or state-approved alternatives or assessments for students in special education.
• Classes of 2015 and beyond: State exam in reading and writing, one biology end-of-course exam (EOC) and one algebra and one geometry end-of-course exam or state-approved alternatives or assessments for students in special education.
Make-up days for High School Proficiency Exams (HSPE)
Writing: Aug. 13 and 14 (two-day exam).
Reading: Aug. 15.
• Toll free phone registration: 866-400-9275.
• Support is available 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through June 28.
Thirteen days before his graduation from Heritage High School, senior Gabriel Morales, 17, was told he wouldn't be graduating, after all.
He earned a grade point average of 2.83 and had more than the required credits, but he had barely missed passing his state reading assessment in March. Failing the High School Proficiency Exam, shortened to the HSPE, was preventing him from graduating on time with his class.
He wasn't alone in his predicament. A total of 173 Heritage seniors -- 33 percent of the 525 enrolled seniors -- failed to pass tests or complete other graduation requirements and did not receive a diploma.
Gabe's story, at least, has a happy ending. He completed an alternative to the HSPE exam called a Collection of Evidence and was given permission to take part in graduation ceremonies, though he still won't receive his diploma until his COE is scored and his work is deemed proficient.
Raising the bar
Earning a high school diploma is tougher than it used to be, and it's getting even more challenging.
"The bar is much more rigorous for students today," said Ted Feller, executive director of secondary education for Evergreen Public Schools. "Students must demonstrate that they meet proficiency."
The state requires all seniors to earn the required credits, complete a culminating project, also known as a senior project, and complete a high school and beyond plan. In addition, students must pass state assessments.
The class of 2008 was the first graduating class required to pass reading and writing assessments, said Karen Weintraub, assessment manager for the district. This year's seniors also must pass one of two End-of-Course math exams, either algebra or geometry.
Graduation requirements will be even tougher for current sophomores, who must pass five exams by the time they're seniors: End-of Course exams for algebra and geometry as well as biology, in addition to the reading and writing HSPE exams.
Both the state and high schools provide numerous opportunities for students to pass the required exams. Students are mailed their test scores, and if they didn't pass, they are told of upcoming dates to retake the tests.
Students who fail the state exams twice can do alternative work, such as a Collection of Evidence that essentially provides work samples to show proficiency in the subject. Many high schools offer a Collection of Evidence class to help seniors achieve their diploma. Heritage High School offers a Collection of Evidence class, but Gabe didn't take it.
Weintraub of Evergreen Public Schools says the number of students meeting the state standard "has continuously increased through the years, as well as from-year-to-year."
Most Clark County school districts have some students who are not graduating because they aren't passing the state tests. In Evergreen, 25 out of 2,350 seniors were ineligible for their diploma after failing one or more state assessments said Weintraub.
In the Battle Ground School District, 33 of 812 seniors are not graduating due to failing one or more of the state standardized tests, according to Gregg Herrington, district spokesman.
At Camas High School, seven of its 457 seniors are not graduating and only one senior isn't graduating for failing to meet the state assessment requirement, said Ellise Anderson, the school's associate principal. The other six seniors didn't meet the credit requirement. Five are Running Start students who didn't pass their Clark College classes.
The six high schools in Vancouver Public Schools have a total of "1,565 possible graduates," said Tom Hagley, Jr., district spokesman. Only 12 seniors are not walking at graduation because they didn't pass one or more of their state standardized tests, he said.
"Our ultimate goal is to get all the kids across the stage," Feller of the Evergreen district said. "But we want that diploma to mean something."
Finding a way
After Gabe learned he wouldn't graduate, his grandmother, Kathy Foley, went to the school office with him and learned Gabe could fulfill his state exam requirement by pulling together an alternative called a Collection of Evidence, a sample of work demonstrating he is proficient in the subject. A determined Gabe began working on his COE.
Because results of the work sample wouldn't be available until August, Gabe still wouldn't be allowed to walk in graduation, if not for his persistent grandmother, who met with the superintendent's secretary. He walked with his class, though getting a diploma still depends on the results of his COE.
Gabe would be the first in his immediate family to graduate from high school. His parents, David and Amy Morales, were sweethearts at Evergreen High School when they became parents at age 17. Amy gave birth to Gabriel. David dropped out of school to support his new family.
On Thursday night, Gabe's family arrived at McKenzie Stadium three hours before the commencement ceremony so they could be first in line to get the best seats. Wearing his cap and gown, Gabe joined them.
"Gabe's done something his mom and I haven't done," David Morales said. "He's breaking the ice."