State math test may sink graduation hopes

Statewide, 16,000 students in the class of 2013 don’t know yet if they’ll graduate this year.

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Thousands of high school students in Washington’s Class of 2013 don’t know yet if they will get a diploma later this spring because they have yet to meet the state’s newest graduation requirement: a math exam.

Most of their fellow seniors have met their requirements: 77.5 percent of this year’s senior class have passed three statewide tests, are in line to earn all their credits, and are ready to complete a senior project and write a plan for what they want to do after high school. Those percentages look good, considering Washington’s on-time graduation rate has hovered just below 80 percent for the past few years.

But about 16,000 students across the state don’t yet know if they will need a cap and gown in a couple of months.

The class of 2013 is the first expected to pass either an algebra or geometry test to graduate, although high school students have been taking statewide math exams for years.

About 8,000 students in the class of 2013 have not yet fulfilled the math testing requirement and another 4,300 have not met any of the state testing requirements for reading, writing or math. About 3,800 still need to pass one or two tests.

The math assessment does not appear to be a significant barrier to graduation for Walla Walla students.

Maria Garcia, assessment coordinator for Walla Walla Public Schools, said two Walla Walla High School students will submit collections of evidence portfolios at the end of the month to meet the math assessment requirement. Those students will learn before graduation if they passed. A third student who did not meet the math assessment this year declined to work on a collection of evidence.

The portfolio collections are an option for students to meet math, reading or writing standards if they have been unable to pass the end-of-course exams or other assessments needed to graduate.

A total of 44 students, from Wa-Hi and Lincoln, submitted portfolios in February and all passed, Garcia said. Both high schools dedicated staff and resources this year to help students complete portfolios.

Garcia said some students are not on track to graduate either because they are credit deficient, or they have yet to pass reading or writing portions of the state assessment.

“However, Walla Walla Public Schools does a great job of retaining students into a fifth year, providing credit retrieval and summer school options so students can continue to pursue their diploma,” Garcia wrote in an e-mail. Wa-Hi recently received a Washington Achievement Award for its extended graduation rate of 91.7 percent and Lincoln is “continually improving” its rate, she said.

Nearly 80 students in Seattle Public Schools are in danger of not graduating, just because of the new math test, said Nancy Steers, the district’s assessment coordinator. More are still struggling to meet the writing or reading requirements.

Three points of historical reference statewide:

  • Nearly 12,000 students in the class of 2012, last year’s graduating class, dropped out before getting a diploma.
  • At the beginning of this school year, about 2,400 students in the class of 2013 didn’t have enough credits to graduate.
  • The class of 2015 will be required to pass both an algebra and geometry test to graduate.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says the underfunding of education is one of the biggest barriers to raising the graduation rate beyond 80 percent.

“For the next 20 percent, you need that extra effort to keep those kids on track and build that one-on-one relationship,” Dorn said.

The president of the statewide teachers union said teachers and classroom support are the keys to helping kids get over the graduation hurdle.

“Underfunding classrooms is the biggest barrier,” said Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association.

U-B reporter Maria P. Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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