A law adopted by the state legislature this summer offered some relief for high school students who failed to pass state assessments.
House Bill 2224 postponed the requirement that high school students pass the end-of-course biology assessment or prove proficiency in the subject until the class of 2021 — this year’s freshmen. Previously, students in the class of 2017 were expected to pass the exam, issued at the end of sophomore year, in order to graduate. State Superintendent Chris Reykdal this summer said the tests can have a “chilling effect” on a student’s future.
“Student success should not be tied to passing a single test,” Reykdal said. “Our current standard excludes thousands of bright students and, for some, serves as a road block when it should be a checkpoint.”
Recently released state test records show about 71.5 percent of Clark County students who took the test by the end of sophomore year this past spring passed, though students who failed — 1,677 in Clark County — can take the test in subsequent years.
The failure rate is more stark for most students of color, state data shows. White, Asian and students listed as two or more races in the state passed by a rate of 79.3 percent, while 51.9 percent of Hispanic, black, native Hawaiian and Native American students passed the state assessment. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction couples those ethnic groups together based on historical achievement rates, an OSPI official said Friday.
The state law also changes the requirements for students who fail to pass English and math assessments. Those students were previously required to pass those Smarter Balanced Assessments their sophomore year, but now if they fail to do so, they can graduate if they achieve a certain scores on an SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test. Students who complete a dual credit course like Running Start or College in the High School may also graduate, or if students take and pass a locally created assessment approved by the state.
“We all know students who have difficulty in testing,” said Gail Spolar, Evergreen Public Schools spokeswoman.
Spolar said while there were students enrolled in summer school who were able to graduate in light of the policy change, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many students were only enrolled in summer school because they’d failed the state biology test or other assessments. State data shows 72.7 percent of Evergreen students passed the end-of-course biology test last spring.
The delay in requiring students to pass the science exam comes as Washington prepares to roll out the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science, which will be given for the first time this next spring. But the change in law means students will not have to pass that test, nor will they need to prove proficiency in the subject if they meet all other graduation requirements.
Layne Manning, curriculum director for Vancouver Public Schools, said the new exam will test students’ knowledge across life, earth and physical science, rather than exclusively biology like the old exam.
“This new assessment will be more balanced and better represent the student’s program of study from really the beginning until they take it,” she said.
Delaying requiring students to pass the exam, however, will ensure the test is a “valid and reliable assessment,” she added.
At Vancouver Public Schools, 87 students who did not graduate had not passed at least one of the math, English and science assessments. This year, 64.4 percent of Vancouver students passed the end-of-course biology exam.
However, Brian Dunlap, director of assessment and performance management, said those 87 students may be missing other graduation requirements in addition to failing the state assessments. The district doesn’t break down what students are only failing a state test versus those who are short credits or missing other graduation requirements.
Nonetheless, Assistant Superintendent Travis Campbell said the change in state law removes a roadblock for students struggling to graduate.
“The bottom line is it’s removing an additional barrier for a state mandated test,” Campbell said. “That’s good news.”