Tri-City schools tracking legislation that would change graduation credit

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 16, 2014 

Tri-City school officials are keeping a close eye on state legislation that would increase the number and kind of credits needed to graduate from high school, beginning with today's seventh-graders.

The bill, SB 6552, passed by the Senate on Thursday, would require students complete a minimum 24 credits, up from the current 20, in high school with more liberal arts, science and career-oriented courses.

District officials said that would put more pressure on students struggling to graduate while also requiring districts to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more on teachers and space.

"This is not a cheap thing the state board (of education) is talking about implementing," said Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond during his board's meeting this week.

The legislation would implement the Career & College Ready Graduation Requirements designed by the Washington State Board of Education. The requirements, which set a minimum number of graduation requirements, are one of the state board's top priorities during this year's short legislative session.

The additional science class would be a lab course. Three additional credits could either come from an arts course and two language courses, or from a "personalized pathway" that could include career and technical education and subjects students plan to pursue in college.

"The board made clear that it embraces a multiple pathways approach designed to prepare all students for post-secondary education and training," said Ben Rarick, the state board's executive director, in a release.

The Kennewick School District requires 21 credits for its students to graduate. Richland requires 21.5 and Pasco 22. Officials in all three districts said many students already exceed even those requirements, some completing as many as 26 credits before they receive their diploma.

"It's working for us," said Pasco Assistant Superintendent Glenda Cloud of current requirements.

Raising the number of credits and defining what classes they must be will limit the electives students can take, officials said. It also puts students who struggle in school at even more risk of failing.

And more teachers would be needed to teach the additional classes. Kennewick would require between $375,000 and $455,000 to hire five to seven teachers, Bond said.

None of the Tri-City high schools has the infrastructure to support another lab science class, which requires a special classroom with sinks, fume hoods and other equipment.

"Our high school labs are filled every period right now," said Richland Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley.

And there's one part of the new requirements that could give districts further headaches: an exemption to allow districts to waive up to two credits for students who have attempted to complete 24 credits. But neither legislators nor the state board have said what students would have to do to show they attempted to earn those credits.

"We should define that, otherwise you're doing 200 appeals," said Kennewick School Board member Brian Brooks.

District officials said graduation requirements should be rigorous and prepare students for their futures. But some wondered if the state was more concerned with quantity rather than quality.

"The state likely hopes students will take more math and science but that won't necessarily happen," Bond said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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