Washington, Other States Allow Alternatives to Test

K-12 Testing

Washington State is moving to create alternative routes to graduation for students rather than relying solely on its state exit exam, while Utah and Georgia have joined many other states that allow at least some graduation options for students who fail their state graduation tests. And Massachusetts made it easier for students who have not passed the state exam to appeal for an obtain an exemption from the test requirements.


Washington high school students will have more graduation options thanks to a push by the state's teachers' union, former Governor Booth Gardner and other advocates for a reassessment of the exit exam policy. In late March, Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill that includes several alternative routes to a diploma besides the exit exam. Students may show their grades are similar to peers who have passed, demonstrate competence with portfolios of their work, or present specified scores on other exams, including the SAT or ACT.


Groups that oppose keeping the WASL exit exam as the main graduation requirement, including the Washington Education Association (WEA) and Mothers Against WASL, say the battle goes on. A panel was established to do a two-year study of the WASL as well as other approaches. The WEA has proposed an alternative system called "weighted multiple measures" that would include exit exam results but give them less weight than grade point average, which has been shown to be a more reliable predictor of future academic performance (see http://www.washingtonea.org/index.php?option=com_
for more information on the WEA plan). WEA members will continue pushing for alternatives during the next legislative session.


Additional states are showing increased flexibility with their exit exams requirements. Utah, for example, now allows students who fail its graduation test to obtain diplomas that specify they have not passed the exam. Georgia recently decided that students can obtain an exit exam waiver if they have good attendance, obtain a near-passing score on the test, and pass other end-of-course exams.


Massachusetts has long had an appeals process, but the state required students who did not have a disability to score within 4 points of the cutoff score of 220 to be eligible for the appeal. The policy change came as part of a settlement in response to a legal challenge and just as controversy over the graduation test requirement erupted anew (see story, this issue). Under the new policy, any student may appeal. The requirements to win an appeal remain the same. Essentially, the appellant needs strong attendance and to show that s/he has earned grades comparable to those students who passed in core courses.


- For more on state alternatives, see "Multiple Measures for Graduation," Examiner, Summer 2005)