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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Other Papers Say: Math, English crucial courses

By The Seattle Times
Published: March 6, 2023, 6:01am

The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:

Amid constant tinkering around education standards and requirements in Washington, it’s important to step back, take a breath and ask a basic question: Exactly what do we want in a high school graduate? The answer is not always obvious.

Some people will say the goal is a young person who can enter college and earn a bachelor’s degree without needing remedial classes. Others will prefer that young people leave school with the skills to move directly into living-wage jobs. But one thing almost everyone can embrace is the idea of high school graduates who are literate in basic math and English.

A proposed law endorsed by the House Education Committee, House Bill 1308, could undermine that goal.

Currently, students must do three things to get a diploma: Earn 24 credits of coursework; complete a High School and Beyond Plan that aligns those courses with long-term goals; and meet the requirements of one among an array of “graduation pathways.” The problem, according to the state Board of Education, is that the current pathways don’t work for all kids.

In large part, that’s because they guide students toward college readiness, military service or the trades. Last year, after surveying nearly 1,000 parents, educators, students and business people, the state board discovered — notably — that 18 percent of students said they were “not good” at math, and 33 percent said they were poor test-takers. For them, the current pathways feel like a barrier because of their emphasis on these skills.

The new proposed pathway is instead focused on performance. It would allow kids to create a presentation — say an exhibit, film or report — demonstrating mastery of two core subjects, but not necessarily math or English.

Anything that gets more kids interested in school is great. But it’s conceivable that through the performance pathway, a student could create a project emphasizing mastery in “fine arts” and “health and fitness,” and submit a video of themselves dancing.

Would that pass muster? Difficult to say, since individual educators in each district would decide. But considering the pandemic-era trend to keep graduation rates up and do whatever it takes to get students over the finish line, it’s certainly possible.

Tafona Ervin, executive director of the foundation behind Graduate Tacoma, worries that the lack of emphasis on math and English could become a way to push students to graduation without solid skills. Kia Franklin, executive director of Stand for Children, said much the same. Both would feel much better about the bill if it contained language requiring proof of literacy and numeracy.

Agreed. If the purpose of education is to ensure that young people are prepared to pursue their own definitions of a fulfilling life, finishing school uncertain of one’s abilities in these two fundamental areas undercuts the goal.