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Thousands may not graduate because of state math test

Thousands of high school students in Washington's Class of 2013 don't know yet if they will get a diploma later this spring because they have not yet met the state's newest graduation requirement: a math exam.

Most of their fellow seniors have met their requirements: 77.5 percent of this year's senior class have passed three statewide tests, are in line to earn all their credits, and are ready to complete a senior project and write a plan for what they want to do after high school. Those percentages look good, considering Washington's on-time graduation rate has hovered just below 80 percent for the past few years.

But about 16,000 students across the state don't yet know if they will need a cap and gown in a couple of months.

The class of 2013 is the first expected to pass either an algebra or geometry test to graduate, although high school students have been taking statewide math exams for years.

About 8,000 students in the class of 2013 have not yet fulfilled the math testing requirement and another 4,300 have not met any of the state testing requirements for reading, writing or math. About 3,800 still need to pass one or two tests.

Nearly 80 students in Seattle Public Schools are in danger of not graduating, just because of the new math test, said Nancy Steers, the district's assessment coordinator. More are still struggling to meet the writing or reading requirements.

"I would say 90 percent of them are really trying," she said. "They're sweating bullets."

The district has an assessment intervention specialist at most of its high schools and these students are getting help, Seers said, including getting extra assistance from teachers and taking special classes.

"It's painful to see how much time and effort can go into this and they just can't quite reach that bar," Seers said. "Some of those kids will go on to wonderful things, and they just won't be a scholar in math."

Some students who haven't passed a math test yet took a make-up exam in January or February and have just found out or will know soon if they passed. Writing and reading tests were given in mid-March and those results will be available at the end of May.

At the end of April, schools also will be hearing how students did on a testing alternative called the Collection of Evidence, which is a portfolio-based review of student work in reading, writing or math.

Students who didn't pass the January-February math tests will get another chance to test in June and another chance to turn in a Collection of Evidence late in the spring. Those results will not be ready before graduation.

Three points of historical reference:

—Nearly 12,000 students in the class of 2012, last year's graduating class, dropped out before getting a diploma.

— At the beginning of this school year, about 2,400 students in the class of 2013 didn't have enough credits to graduate.

—The class of 2015 will be required to pass both an algebra and geometry test to graduate.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says the underfunding of education is one of the biggest barriers to raising the graduation rate beyond 80 percent.

"For the next 20 percent, you need that extra effort to keep those kids on track and build that one-on-one relationship," Dorn said.

The president of the statewide teachers union said teachers and classroom support are the keys to helping kids get over the graduation hurdle.

"Our biggest problem in improving the graduation rate or closing the achievement gap is we don't have the resources we need to be able to do that. Underfunding classrooms is the biggest barrier," said Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association, the statewide teacher's union.

Passage rates on the reading and writing tests both improved rapidly after those tests became a graduation requirement. Seers predicts the same will happen with the math exam.

For now, she's helping teachers and administrators do the best they can to guide students toward their diploma. And she's talking to upset parents and helping them find alternatives.


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