State bill changes math requirements for high school students

It’s time for Federal Way students to bone up on their math skills.

It’s time for Federal Way students to bone up on their math skills.

High school freshmen and sophomores will only have to take one math test to qualify to graduate under a law that passed in the Legislature on Tuesday. State Superintendent Randy Dorn’s law, House Bill 1412, changes a legislative mandate enacted in 2008 that all high school students must pass a competency test in both algebra and geometry to earn a graduation certificate. Dorn’s law only applies to students set to graduate in either 2013 or 2014. Students set to graduate in 2015 and beyond, however, will have to take the tests.

The intention behind the bill is to align curriculum and test taking so that students take the test at the end of the school year in which they studied the subject, said Chris Barron, a spokesman from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Most sophomores are taking geometry this year, having taken the algebra course several school years ago. Without Dorn’s law, they would be tested on two subjects, one of which they have not taken recently.

“Whenever you move from a single exam to two end-of-course exams, there’s always an alignment issue,” Barron said.

Federal Way School District officials agree with the change, saying it will help affected students.

“We support the bill and appreciate our legislators’ recognition of the challenges our students face in the current system,” said Josh Garcia, assistant superintendent for Teaching for Learning. “It will mean our students can stay focused on the current classes they attend and not have to worry about going backwards.”

By 2015, the test will be aligned in such a way that students will be tested in the year they take a math course.

The Legislature in 2008 mandated that a single state math examination be replaced with two exams, called end-of-course assessments — specifically, assessments that cover algebra and geometry. Those assessments went into effect this school year.

Per the 2008 mandate, students in the graduating classes of 2013 and 2014 could use the comprehensive statewide mathematics assessment in place of the end-of-course tests. Dorn’s bill eliminated that option.

If Gov. Chris Gregoire signs Dorn’s bill, sophomores will take just the geometry end-of-course examination this May. Same goes for next year’s sophomores. A Gregoire spokesperson said that, as of Monday, the governor’s office had not received the bill. It could be signed after the governor  reviews it, the spokesperson said.

Dorn’s bill received wide support in both the House and the Senate. Save for some absent legislators, every lawmaker in both the House and the Senate voted in favor of the bill.

Despite the support among legislators, at least one group spoke against the bill, figuring that students’ math skills should always be sharp enough to be tested.

According to Senate records, the Seattle-based education advocacy group Partnership for Learning testified against the bill because the tests are ready, already required for graduation, and that science, technology, engineering and math courses (called STEM) are important skills for all students.

Maureen Trantham, Partnership for Learning executive director, reasoned that although students may have already taken algebra, some have moved on to higher levels of the course and could pass the test.

“If you’re taking algebra two, and were required to pass algebra one, the test shouldn’t be so hard,” she said in an interview.

Trantham supported the idea of letting students have multiple ways of passing such state requirements, not just one test. And overall, Partnership for Learning supports state overhauls to math standards.

“In many ways, what’s important is there is a means that kids can graduate and demonstrate a proficiency in math,” she said.

Barron said it’s fair to students to test them after they’ve completed a course. Plus, students in the class of 2008 up to 2012 — and then 2015 and beyond — will be taking two tests.

“Truly end of course should mean end of course,” he said.


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