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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

July 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Debate heats up over flexibility in new graduation requirements

Last spring, the Washington State Legislature voted to raise the number of credits that students must earn to graduate from high school from 20 to 24. The bill passed by a large majority, and the change will go into effect for the class of 2019.

But in the last few months, debate over one part of that bill has risen as sharply as this week’s temperatures.

The law says school districts can waive up to two of the 24 credits in “unusual circumstances,” a term that each school district would define for itself.

So far, so good.

The argument centers on which credits could be waived. While some argue that school districts should be able to decide that, too, others contend that 17 “core” credits  mostly in math, English, science and social studies  should be off-limits.


Screen shot from the Washington State Board of Education

Both sides have been writing to the Washington State Board of Education, which may decide the issue next week when it votes on the rules districts must follow in carrying out the new law.

The board has proposed limiting waivers to the seven electives. That’s what the board originally recommended to the Legislature, and how its staff interprets what the law says.

The Excellent Schools Now Coalition, which has 40 member organizations, supports that view. It argues that allowing any of the 24 credits to be waived means that students could graduate from high school with only one credit in math, or just one in science  less than is required now. The League of Education Voters, one of the leaders of that coalition, says that would be a step backward, weakening the state’s graduation requirements rather than strengthening them.

But others — including a number of school districts and some legislators — argue the law was designed to be more flexible.

Thirty-four lawmakers, for example, have written a letter saying they intended to leave the decision about waivers up to each school district, preserving local control.

“The goal … was to allow the maximum flexibility to districts in order to meet the unique needs of their students,” they wrote.

Those who wants to add their thoughts can do so at a State Board hearing scheduled for  Wednesday, July 9th at 1 p.m. in Spokane. Comments also can be sent to the board at

(To ensure the board sees the comments before the meeting, state board staff recommend that people send them by Sunday or early Monday at the latest.)

For more information, see the materials for the board’s meeting here.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Excellent Schools Now, graduation requirements, Washington State Board of Education


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