Friday, February 8, 2013

Testimony - Lowering graduation requirements

To: Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education
CON, SB 5477 - Delineating standard diplomas and applied diplomas.

Dear Chairman Litzow and committee members,

Washington State PTA believes a high school diploma should signify the minimum skills all children need to prepare for work, ongoing study and citizenship. The goal isn’t just to graduate, it is to graduate prepared. We are concerned about tracking. We are concerned about doors closing on kids before they even hit puberty. We are very concerned that the state will continue to view a solid, 24-credit diploma as an “enhancement” – something kids don’t really need and that the state doesn’t really need to fund. At least, not for all students.

We question the assertion “kids can’t do it.” Is it that they can’t do it, or that they haven’t been given the supports needed along the way? Why have we gone down the reform path if not to bring all of our children along?

I would echo Friday morning’s comments of Ben Rarick, executive director of the State Board of Education, and the misconceptions about lack of flexibility in our graduation requirements. There is no requirement that children take algebra II; there is no state test aligned to algebra II. The tests needed for graduation are end-of-course exams for algebra I and geometry, and there is a move to drop geometry. The graduation requirement is for a third credit of math; the student can swap in a career-oriented math class. Whether the school has alternatives available is another question, and likely one directly tied to funding, or the lack of it. Failing to pay for basic education limits district ability to offer a full range of courses.

I would also point out that sending graduates onto a 2-year community college program without a foundation in math, English language arts and science is no solution. Once there, they will have to take remedial courses. The 2-year program that caught their eye can stretch to 3 or more years. The kids who can least afford college end up paying substantially more because they retake courses they needed in high school. Many drop out in frustration. Our opportunity gaps continue right on through those college and early work years. (By the way, our kids going to 4-year colleges aren’t taking a lot of remediation classes. The kids using electives for college prep are prepared. It is the kids who thought they didn’t need the math, or who had adults in their lives who didn’t realize kids would need those classes, who are stuck with the bills and the frustration.)

Our state has never set out to force all children into a 4-year university. And if you want to be competitive for a top university or an academic scholarship, you need more than 3 years of math and 2 years of science, and you need more than algebra II. What Washington has done is identify the basic, minimum skills that employers, trade schools, community and technical colleges and universities expect graduates to have. It has identified the skills needed for an informed citizenry.

That’s it. The basics. And we still can’t get these requirements funded or implemented.

So a bill like SB 5477 that inadvertently gives the state an out -- and that gives districts an out, and that gives adults in general an out to say, well, those kids don’t really need that – troubles us deeply. The conversation should be “how can we invest in great career and technical education programs that excite our kids?” “How can we develop math courses that are relevant to kids and truly prepare them for life after high school?” “How do we design a course that satisfies both math and science requirements so we can free kids up to take more exploratory electives?”

It isn’t our graduation requirements, or our learning standards, that are stymying kids who want or need more hands-on learning. It isn’t lack of electives (or wouldn’t be if the state actually paid for a full six periods in middle and high school). It is lack of investment in our schools and children, and our inability to adequately implement the great ideas out there.

Please, don’t pit these different types of learners against each other. Implement the state’s 24-credit diploma and pay for it.

I didn’t think I could cover this in two minutes of live testimony, so I thank you for taking the time to read Washington State PTA testimony here. Please commit to the years of work that have gone into planning a revised program of basic education that supports the 24-credit career and college-ready diploma and to giving all of our children access to a solid foundation that can take them down multiple paths.

Senate Bill 5477 is fueled by a very real concern for our diverse students, but creating tiers isn’t the solution.


Ramona Hattendorf
Government relations coordinator
Washington State PTA

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