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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Kill biology, but don’t undermine testing

The biology assessment is holding up high school graduation for about 3,300 students in Washington state. Two years ago at this time, about 2,000 students faced the same prospect, and lawmakers suspended the requirement.

Now it’s time to kill it until a better science assessment can be devised, but legislators should not take the value of assessment down with it.

Two years ago, the state Board of Education agreed that the test itself was the problem. The board had adopted new science standards, but the test was based on old ones. Plus, students across the state had varying exposure to the subject.

While few people are fond of the biology assessment, some lawmakers see this as an opportunity to sever the link between the math and English assessments and graduation.

Not so fast.

The failure rate on the biology assessment far exceeds that for English and math, according to May figures released by the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction. It’s two times higher than the rate for English and four times higher than the rate for math. Yet another indicator that the biology test itself is the problem.

Plus, students take many English and math classes before they graduate. It makes sense to assess the effectiveness of that instruction.

The Senate has passed a bill to end the biology assessment until a new science assessment is available in 2021. The House has passed a bill to decouple assessments from graduation requirements. Neither chamber has voted on the other chamber’s bills.

The Senate bill would solve the biology issue. We support that. The House attempts to conflate the specific problem with biology with the general desire to end accountability through testing. We do not support that.

Proponents of the House bill point to the more than 5,000 students who won’t graduate because of assessments, but most of them are held up by biology. Pass the Senate bill and most of that “problem” goes away. We question whether the rest represent an actual problem with testing or whether it’s a bid to return to social promotion, where high school diplomas are devalued.

High-stakes testing is an accountability tool. If tests aren’t taken seriously, they won’t be an accurate barometer of learning. The graduation requirement began in 2008. Since then, graduation rates have increased and the rate of students needing remedial work in college has decreased. The high school diploma has also become a more accurate reflection of what employers need. That progress needs to continue.

If there are too many tests, that’s a separate issue.

Our concern with severing the link between assessments and graduation is that the progress on raising the value of the diploma could be lost. Until there is a better alternative, keep the math and English assessments (and their alternatives) as a graduation requirement.

Don’t toss accountability out with a bad biology test.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on “Opinion.

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