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July 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

State board protects 17 core graduation credits from waivers

When the state’s new graduation requirements go into effect in 2019, school districts won’t have as much flexibility as some wanted in waiving credits for students facing unusual circumstances.

The state board of education voted Thursday to protect 17 of the 24 required credits from waivers, essentially limiting any waivers to elective classes.

The 17 protected credits include four in English, three in math, three in science, three in social science, two in health and fitness, one in the arts, and one in career/technical education.

The 8-5 vote followed a lot of debate about what the Legislature actually meant when it passed the new graduation law last spring. That law increased the number of credits that students must earn from 20 to 24. It also gave school districts the ability to waive up to two of those credits in unusual circumstances.

It was clear that each district would be able to define what “unusual” meant, but debate erupted over which credits could be waived.

The Excellent Schools Now Coalition, which has 40 member organizations, argued to keep the 17 core credits off-limits. If any of the 24 could be waived, it argued, students theoretically could graduate from high school with only one credit in math, or just one in science  less than what is required now.

After Thursday’s vote, Chris Korsmo of the League of Education Voters, one of the coalition’s leaders, praised the board for protecting “the bare essentials for getting kids ready for college and career.”

But others  including a number of school districts  had argued that legislators intended to give districts more flexibility.

Even legislators didn’t agree on what they had passed. The state board received a letter from 34 lawmakers arguing that they intended to leave the waiver decisions up to districts, and a second from 20 others saying the opposite.

On Thursday, state board members debated the issue for about two and a half hours. Ben Rarick, the board’s executive director, said board members felt caught in the middle.

Faced with the two competing versions of what the Legislature intended, the board “simply decided on what they thought was the best thing for kids,” Rarick said.

But given the conflicting interpretations, Rarick also said the issue probably will come up again next legislative session.

Comments | More in News | Topics: graduation requirements, waivers, Washington State Board of Education

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