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Legislative tie-up could delay WA diplomas

A legislative tie-up over biology...

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A tie-up in the Washington State Legislature could delay diplomas for thousands of graduating high school seniors.

Students are tested in several subjects before they graduate. (For full information, see the OSPI website.)

Among the more major categories: Math, language arts, and biology. The first two have consistently been included as part of  graduation requirement. The biology End of Course exam seems to be more challenging for students, and the legislature has gone back and forth on whether or not the test should be linked as a requirement.

"There were a diversity of opinions in the legislature so what they decided to do was instead of stop it completely or just continue it they decided to suspend it,” said Ben Rarick, the executive director of  Washington's Board of Education.

That suspension, enacted two years ago, has reached its expiration. Legislation has been introduced in both the state House and the Senate, but a cross-chamber compromise has yet to be reached. 

“The legislature has a number of different issues on their plate, and I think some of us thought that they would be able to resolve this issue earlier in the spring,” Rarick said.

The legislature is in the middle of now a second special session focused on reaching an agreement for the state K-12 education budget. High school graduations are now underway across the state, but still no official decision regarding the biology EOC exam.

Rarick estimates “somewhere in the range” of 2,000-3,000 students in Washington have not passed the exam.

“I'd like to think that our legislators on both sides of the aisle will come together and will see the greater goodness in it all that they de-linked it two years ago, but you never really know,” said Kevin Morrison, the spokesperson for Spokane Public Schools.

For those few thousand students, this is not necessarily out of the blue. Morrison says SPS students are made aware of their status regarding the testing and given counseling and educational opportunities, like summer school, to try and improve their score.

Still, 'frustrating' is one of many words that come to their minds.

“It's becoming an issue of fairness for kids and families that if the two previous classes were absolved by this requirement, something should be done for the classes that follow,” Rarick said.

Each of the 295 school districts gets to decide how to handle this issue. 57 SPS students will don cap and gown like the rest of their peers this weekend, but they'll have to wait for their diploma until at least the end of the summer. The Cheney school distrist says their 13 students will do the same- walk, then wait.

They've sent what's called a collection of evidence to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It's information and work to be graded over the summer, and, hopefully, approved  by OSPI as an acceptable alternative to the EOC exam.

“Even though school is out, you've walked with all your classmates going across, and what you're going to feel is not quite the same elation until maybe august 25th when they get the results,” Morrison said.

Rarick said he suspects many of the students across the state whose diplomas are in question will use this route.

But, until August?

“There's probably some very frustrated students and parents,” Morrison said.

Rarick says a decision could be on its way: Both chambers of the state legislature have approved to cut funding for the test (as it exists as a requirement for graduation). 

“I hold some hope,” Rarick said. “The things that I've been hearing out of the legislature is that there is an emerging consensus on this biology issue,” he said. 


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