WALLA WALLA — Local education leaders spoke out recently in support of a bill that would establish a second high school diploma in Washington state.
Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Mick Miller and Walla Walla School Board member Cindy Meyer were in Olympia on Feb. 8 to testify in favor of Senate Bill 5477. Miller and Meyer testified before the State Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. Miller was there representing the Southeast Washington School Administrators, while Meyer spoke on behalf of the School Board.
The bill would create an applied diploma along with the current standard diploma for high school students.
For each diploma, students would still earn the same amount of credits to graduate, but other graduation requirements would change with the applied diploma. Students could take technology, arts or an apprenticeship to earn credits in place of high school English and math. Students would also be able to skip the math and English assessments of the state exam, as long as they showed proficiency in those subjects by passing the eighth-grade state standards exam.
In Washington, students are required to pass an end-of-course exam in first-year or second-year math, typically algebra or geometry. The requirement is to change to passing both years of math with the class of 2015.
Students who don’t meet the math standard can present a collection of evidence, which were due this month and are currently being reviewed.
In the testimony, which is available online, Meyer spoke about the hardship for students in Walla Walla students and across the state. Locally, 67 seniors have met their high school credit requirements but have not passed the math assessment, which means they were required to present a collection of evidence.
Across the state, some 16,000 students did not meet the math end-of-course assessment for this year, and have presented collection of evidence for review, Meyer noted.
“If they are unable to pass the collection of evidence, they will not have a diploma,” Meyer said in an e-mail.
“These are students who have gone the distance with us, and the only thing standing between them and a diploma, is their inability to pass a math assessment that requires processing abstract math concepts,” she said.
Miller said the current state diploma is “one size fits all” and geared primarily for students looking to meet requirements to enter a four-year college. He said that because of the rigor of the standard diploma, students who would benefit from vocational and technical courses to be offered at the new Southeast Washington Skills Center, which is under construction in Walla Walla, will not be able to attend.
“I am supportive of this (bill) because it gives kids more options and provides more relevance to their educational experience,” Miller said in an email. He also the district was waiting to see how students do on the collection of evidence.
“We hope our students do well, but hate the idea that a student will have the credits to graduate, but will not because they have not passed a state test,” he said.
Opponents of the bill, who also testified, said the state Board of Education has dedicated years of study and review to make sure the graduation requirements as they stand meet the needs of all students. Jana Carlisle, executive director of Partnership for Learning, said the proposal would create a “two-tier system,” limit student’s choices and not prepare them for 21st century careers.
Ben Rarick, executive director of the Board of Education, stood behind the board’s graduation requirements, emphasizing they were designed to meet the needs of all students. He said he felt confident the majority of students who presented collections of evidence would go on to earn diplomas. Carlisle and Rarick both urged the committee to reject SB 5477.
During the Walla Walla School Board’s regular meeting Tuesday, Miller and Meyer spoke briefly about testifying in Olympia. Miller said students in Oregon have four choices for high school diplomas, and he said he did not feel employers looked at students differently based on the diploma they earned.
Meyer said Wednesday she had heard from the Washington State School Directors Association that Sen. Steve Litzow, who sponsored the bill with Sen. Pam Roach, would not be moving it out of committee. The bill has until Friday to be moved out of committee for consideration this Legislative session, according to the Washington State Legislature call center.
“While the bill is not perfect, I believe it is a step in the right direction,” Miller said.