More editorials calling on lawmakers to retain graduation tests in English and math; keep “Washington a state where a diploma is meaningful”

Earlier this week, we wrote of the importance of maintaining the graduation tests in English and math, citing a Seattle Times editorial that said: 

Lawmakers should maintain Washington’s … graduation exams in math and English. The high standards Washington sets with its testing system hold students and their schools accountable. The state should have an objective standard for earning a diploma.

Three other papers have similarly editorialized in favor of retaining the English and math tests. We encourage you to read all the editorials. They’re persuasive and they provide context that hasn’t been widely reported. 

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorial board writes,  

Setting minimum standards is important, and was a key to the education reforms passed 20 or so years ago…

Common Core is the new standard that was adopted a few years ago. The Legislature mandated at that time that high school students would be required to pass the new Common Core-based tests in English and math to receive a diploma.

That seems reasonable.

Eliminating the requirements would be a major step away from progress and accountability. The editorial continues,

The tests and the way they are implemented should continue to be adjusted to ensure they are relevant for all students and they measure correctly.

However, eliminating testing as a graduation requirement takes away needed accountability that serves to keep students focused on learning.

Beyond that, students who don’t do well on tests have other options to meet these graduation requirements.

The testing requirement for math and English isn’t perfect, but it’s better than no system at all.    

All of the papers agree that problems with the biology exam justify its elimination as a requirement right now. But, as the Spokesman-Review points out, it’s wrong to use problems with that test as a rationale for ending the testing requirement for English and math.

The biology assessment is holding up high school graduation for about 3,300 students in Washington state. Two years ago at this time, about 2,000 students faced the same prospect, and lawmakers suspended the requirement.

Now it’s time to kill it until a better science assessment can be devised, but legislators should not take the value of assessment down with it.

Two years ago, the state Board of Education agreed that the [biology] test itself was the problem. The board had adopted new science standards, but the test was based on old ones. Plus, students across the state had varying exposure to the subject.

While few people are fond of the biology assessment, some lawmakers see this as an opportunity to sever the link between the math and English assessments and graduation.

Not so fast.

The editorial writers point out the current legislative situation.

The Senate has passed a bill to end the biology assessment until a new science assessment is available in 2021. The House has passed a bill to decouple assessments from graduation requirements. Neither chamber has voted on the other chamber’s bills.

The Senate bill would solve the biology issue. We support that. The House attempts to conflate the specific problem with biology with the general desire to end accountability through testing. We do not support that.

And they explain,

Proponents of the House bill point to the more than 5,000 students who won’t graduate because of assessments, but most of them are held up by biology. Pass the Senate bill and most of that “problem” goes away. We question whether the rest represent an actual problem with testing or whether it’s a bid to return to social promotion, where high school diplomas are devalued.

The S-R editorial concludes,

Our concern with severing the link between assessments and graduation is that the progress on raising the value of the diploma could be lost. Until there is a better alternative, keep the math and English assessments (and their alternatives) as a graduation requirement.

Don’t toss accountability out with a bad biology test.

The Columbian editorial board makes similar arguments in support of the English and math tests. In so doing, the remind us of a bit of important history.

Given that fact and the fact that failure rates for the biology exam are more than twice that of the English exam and four times that of the math exam, lawmakers should step in. Allowing students who have met all other requirements to graduate would appropriately serve those students.

Yet while some leeway should be allowed regarding the biology test, the situation also provides an opportunity to reiterate the value of standardized tests as a graduation requirement. The Legislature approved such requirements in 1993, and in 1996 Gov. Mike Lowry vetoed a bill to overturn those requirements, writing, “These reforms were historic because, for the first time in our state’s history, they made schools and students accountable for learning — not just for following regulations or sitting through the required number of classes.”

That is an essential distinction, and it marks Washington as a state where a diploma is meaningful. It assures that a student has learned rather than simply attended, and that they have a basic level of preparation for the world beyond high school. Effective preparation requires accountability for both schools and students, and holding both parties to a minimum standard is a reasonable expectation.

We agree. Strongly.