Legislation clears the way for International Baccalaureate grads

New legislation could streamline high school graduation requirements for Washington students enrolled in International Baccalaureate programs.

The bill makes way for International Baccalaureate students to graduate high school simply by earning a diploma from that program, plus two other state requirements for high school graduation.

Federal Way is among more than a dozen school districts in the state that offer an International Baccalaureate program. An International Baccalaureate diploma program is offered at Thomas Jefferson High School for students ages 16 to 19.

In Federal Way, students seeking an International Baccalaureate diploma have to complete requirements outside of the program in order to graduate from high school. The bill would encourage local districts to remove those requirements, but not require it.

For example, the Federal Way International Baccalaureate program offers courses ranging from world languages to chemistry, history, English, art and music, but there’s no physical education component, which is a graduation requirement in Federal Way. Federal Way students must also compile a “culminating project,” which showcases their best work.

International Baccalaureate is an advanced academic program whose tests are examined by outside assessors to ensure that they meet International Baccalaureate standards. Students can work toward a International Baccalaureate diploma, or take individual classes to earn certificates.

According to the bill, the state-level requirements for high school graduation for International Baccalaureate students would be passing state tests and studying both the Washington and U.S. constitutions. The bill would allow the study of the constitutions to be done outside of school.

“At first glance, it appears to be a good opportunity for some of our kids,” said Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Josh Garcia.

The bill was introduced in the House this session by state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines (her district includes portions of the Federal Way School District). The bill passed in the House Committee on Education on Feb. 17 and has been sent back to the House floor for a second reading.

Another emerging issue for the International Baccalaureate program is whether it can be used as an alternative to students passing state tests. Students can seek a Certificate of Academic Achievement instead of passing the state High School Proficiency Exam in several ways: getting a score of 3 or higher on Advanced Placement in various reading, writing and math tests; with SAT scores; a compilation of classroom work samples in reading and writing; and a GPA of 3.2 or higher in math and English courses compared to classmates who took the same classes and passed the HSPE.

Jerry Bender, who works as a legislative liaison with the Association of Washington School Principals, was at the hearing for the International Baccalaureate bill. Bender suggested that passing the program be considered an additional alternative to passing the HSPE.

“The challenge is, there’s only 17 high schools in the state that do an International Baccalaureate program,” he said, noting that it might be cost prohibitive given the relatively few number of students enrolled in the program statewide.

Garcia favored that idea, too, but for both International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Program, offered at Federal Way High School.

“It should be equivalent,” he said.

Federal Way also offers the International Baccalaureate “middle years programme” for students ages 11 to 16, which precedes the two-year year diploma program. International Baccalaureate is an nonprofit education group based in Geneva, Switzerland.


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