Editorial support for maintaining graduation testing requirement: Promotes accountability, gauges learning.

UPDATED to add Columbian editorial.

The bottom line is that Washington taxpayers deserve accountability from schools. Such accountability requires objective tests that demonstrate whether students have earned their diploma or simply been passed along with a wink and a nod by administrators in a particular district.

Some students and many teachers might be frustrated by standardized testing, and there likely is room for improvement to the process. But removing testing from graduation requirements would be a step backward for the state.

We wrote approvingly last summer of the compromise agreement lawmakers reached on graduation testing requirements. 

In early June, we voiced support for maintaining standards, saying that the English and math requirements were among the measures, in the words of an editorial in the Columbian, “[marking] Washington as a state where a diploma is meaningful.” Preserving them, expanding alternatives for students to meet the standards, and delaying the science requirement until a new assessment aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards is developed marks this legislation as a reasonable compromise. 

Recent editorials in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Seattle Times, and Everett Herald cite legislative efforts to undo the compromise and call on lawmakers to stay the course. All make the same essential point: The tests promote accountability and provide important information on how well the schools are educating students. And they point out that claims that the tests are causing otherwise qualified students to fail are without merit.

From the Herald:

Support for ending the testing requirement is based on the notion that thousands of students were being denied diplomas because of the test. But as the editorial board noted last year in support of the compromise, most of those who had failed the test or hadn’t taken it were also deficient in the credits necessary to graduate. Truancy was — and remains — a bigger obstacle than the test.

And the tests — the Smarter Balanced Assessments that are taken in the third, eighth and now 10th grades — are not as “high stakes” as some have claimed. As part of last year’s compromise, the high school test was moved from the junior year to the sophomore year, allowing ample time for students to take advantage of a number of options to satisfy the requirement.

Moreover, the editorial continues,

In testimony before the Senate’s education committee, Jan. 15, Neil Strege, vice president of Washington Roundtable — which represents state employers who are eager to hire a local, qualified workforce — noted that the state is seeing steady statewide increases in graduation rates since the testing requirement was adopted, demonstrating that the tests are not a significant impediment to graduation. And since 2008, when the tests became a graduation requirement, community and technical colleges have seen a decline in the percentage of students needing remedial courses for math and language arts.

The Seattle Times editorial board writes,

Listening to Monday’s committee testimony in support of Senate Bill 6144, you would think last year’s deal never happened — that a child’s entire future in Washington state still hinges solely on how they perform one day on a statewide exam.

This is far from accurate. At the same time, completely delinking the state’s standardized tests — which schools must administer under federal rules — from graduation requirements would be a mistake, potentially eroding the work Washington’s school system has done to establish consistent, high academic standards over the past decade…

Tying standardized tests to graduation, however loosely, helps ensure students take them seriously, which leads to better data about how well our school system is serving students. These metrics will be crucial as lawmakers try to gauge the effects of the billions of new state dollars they are investing in public schools, while helping them identify and tackle lingering achievement gaps between students of different income levels, backgrounds and ethnicities.

The Union-Bulletin editorial states,

Setting minimum standards for graduation is important. It’s the linchpin to the statewide testing program, which — while certainly not perfect — has served as a tool to hold students, teachers and administrators accountable…

Veering from that plan now would be a mistake.

Right. Stay the course.