A change of focus in American education has taken place over the past two decades. In 2002, more than half the states required students to pass an academic proficiency test in order to graduate from high school; today, 12 states have such a requirement.
As Washington officials join that trend by formulating multiple paths to graduation, they must ensure that students still are held to rigorous standards that prepare them for college, advanced technical training or to enter the workforce out of high school. There is no single path to a successful and productive career, but policymakers should be wary of expecting too little from students.
In April, the Legislature passed a law — unanimously in both chambers — partially de-linking standardized tests from graduation standards. Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, was the lead sponsor of House Bill 1599, which was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 7. Now, the Washington State Board of Education is finalizing new graduation requirements and is expected to adopt them Nov. 7.
In addition to earning enough credits and completing a High School and Beyond Plan, next spring’s graduating students will have several options for earning a diploma. They still may demonstrate proficiency by passing standardized tests, but the legislation also allows for college credit through dual-credit programs or career and technical training to count toward high school graduation. There are other options, as well.
Adding multiple avenues might be beneficial for many students. Not every student is interested in or capable of attending a four-year college, nor is such a pathway necessary to be a productive member of society. But even those students who move directly from high school to the workforce will benefit from robust standards that prepare them for a career and indicate to potential employers that Washington graduates are productive workers.