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New High School Diploma Rules Make Clear Which Credits Students Can Waive — And Which They Can't

Brennan Linsley
AP Photo
A high schooler hugs a classmate after receiving her diploma.

High school students in Washington will soon be able to drop up to two courses if they encounter "unusual circumstances" and still earn their diplomas under new state rules, which will also lift the number of required credits from 20 to 24.

But should schools be allowed to waive credits in subjects like English, math or science? The State Board of Education said no Thursday, voting 8 to 5 to approve rules marking 17 "core" credits as off-limits to these waivers. The board's decision mean districts can only excuse a student from elective or world language credits.

"If you think about, historically, who has been left behind statewide in math and science, it's low-income kids," said League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo. She believes allowing waivers of core classes relieves schools worried about graduation rates of their obligation to ensure students are ready for college.

"Those are the kids we need to be focused on ensuring they have access to that same rigor and to those same credits that their more advantaged counterparts have," Korsmo said.

But some state lawmakers say that's not what they intended when they passed the new requirements by wide margins through the House and Senate last March. They argue the law they passed states schools should be able to waive any two of the full 24 credits.

"The goal of this policy was to allow the maximum flexibility to districts in order to meet the unique needs of their students," a group of 34 state legislators wrote. "The proposed rule does not allow for this flexibility."

That's not the view of all lawmakers. Another group of 20 lawmakers wrote in support of the State Board's waiver rules.

Two commenters wrote to ask the State Board clarify what constitutes "unusual circumstances," saying allowing each district to define it will only cause confusion.

"Without clarification and more guidance from the State Board of Education, we run the risk of [having] 295 different definitions," they wrote.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.

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