Students might need 24 credits to graduate

The state Board of Education set new high school graduation requirements this week, although most of them will need legislative approval before they can take effect.

The board sets minimum credit requirements for all school districts in the state. Many of them, including those in and around the Tri-Cities, already set a higher bar for graduation than the state minimum.

But now the state board has raised the bar above what districts had planned for the next few years.

The current state requirement to graduate is 19 credits, the same as it has been since 1985, according to the resolution the state board approved Wednesday.

Starting with 2016, students will need 24 credits for a diploma, the board decided.

The resolution lays out the following key requirements: four credits of English, three of math, three of science and three of social science.

But these changes are subject to the legislative approval if they cost the state extra money, said Aaron Wyatt, the board's spokesman.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction determined that three of the board's new rules could be implemented without new costs to the state, Wyatt said.

The three are upping the English credits needed from three to four, social science from 2.5 to three and mandating half a credit in health.

The other requirements would cost $67 million, an OSPI analysis shows. That will be tough to pass in the Legislature, Wyatt said.

But even the new requirements deemed fiscally neutral at the state level would "have a huge impact at the local level financially," Wyatt said.

Districts might not have the right mix of teachers certified for the new credit requirements.

"That's why we gave them until 2016," Wyatt said.

The impact of the three measures that are more likely to pass might not be too painful in the Mid-Columbia.

Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and Prosser districts already require four credits of English to graduate, for example.

The districts already exceed the existing state requirements overall and had planned to increase their requirements.

But if the full resolution were to pass out of the Legislature, local districts would be affected.

Pasco requires 22 credits for graduation, Kennewick 21, Richland 21.5 and Prosser 23. The math and science credits required are below the new state level.

Some of that will change in 2013.

Pasco, Kennewick and Prosser plan to increase their math requirements to three credits. In Pasco, this will change the total credits required to 23. Required totals in Kennewick and Prosser stay flat; students there are allowed fewer elective credits to count toward a diploma.

Richland's policy documents show no planned increase in credit requirements.

Unless the resolution falls flat in the Legislature, districts will have to change their mix and total amount of required credits by 2016.

The resolution also gives districts flexibility on how to award credits. Until now, one credit meant a student had spent 150 hours in a subject.

Now each district is allowed to establish policies about when students have met the content expectations.