Editor’s note: the following op-ed was written and is supported by senators Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline; Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver; Karen Fraser, D-Olympia; Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill; Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle; Karen Keiser, D-Kent; John McCoy, D-Tulalip; and Pam Roach, R-Auburn.
The more than 60,000 high school seniors who graduate here in Washington state this month are to be commended for 12 years of successfully completing dozens of courses. Thousands other high school seniors will not graduate with their classmates, however, even though they successfully completed the same courses as the students who are graduating. These thousands of seniors will not be allowed to graduate solely because they failed one or more state-required, high-stakes tests.
This is neither fair nor sensible. Some students are simply not very good at taking high-stakes tests — even when they know the material and did well in their courses. There are students who earn As in courses only to freeze up and forget on the day of a high-stakes test. This is not a test of knowledge, it’s a test of who tests well.
Numerous studies confirm that some students — especially low-income and minority students — do much worse on high-stakes tests than students in the same school, in the same courses and with the same grades. A study of thousands of California students in 2009, for example, found low-income and minority students with matching grades were 19 percent more likely to fail a high-stakes test than their peers.
Some argue that we need high-stakes tests to determine who is career and college ready. But numerous studies over many years have found no high-stakes test has ever been able to predict college readiness. Indeed, the most accurate predictor of college readiness is high school grade-point average. If we want students to do well in college, we should encourage them to do their daily homework and do well in their courses — not spend months of time worrying about test prep trivia for a misleading high-stakes test.
Mind you, we’re not opposed to testing per se. We still want to be able to gauge how our students do compared to students in other states, as we did with the Iowa tests — but high-stakes tests are not the answer.
Academic achievement is not measured by a single test. It is measured by the diligence of students who master the curriculum. How a student performs over the course of a 180-day school year is far more telling than how a student performs on a 180-minute test.
Despite the evidence that high-stakes tests have little value, Washington requires high school students to pass four high-stakes exams — in reading, writing, math and biology — to earn a high school diploma. House Bill 2214 would eliminate the biology exam as a graduation requirement, a change that would allow 2,000 additional high school seniors to graduate. Information recently released by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction indicates there are more than 10,000 students who will not graduate this year due to failure to pass one of more high-stakes tests. But only a few of these students would be helped merely by waiving the biology exam because most of the affected students have failed two or more of the required high-stakes exams.
There is another, better option. Senate Bill 6122, co-sponsored by 11 senators, would allow all 10,000 students to graduate — provided they have completed all of their course requirements — by eliminating all high-stakes tests as a graduation requirement.
Half of all states in our nation do not require high-stakes tests for graduation. It is time Washington was one of them.