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Senate would give high school seniors a break on biology test requirement

UPDATED: Wed., June 14, 2017

OLYMPIA – Good news for high school seniors unable to pass their biology assessment test: The Senate passed a bill that would let them get their diplomas anyway.

But the bad news for those seniors and others who were unable to pass the math or English language assessment test is it’s different than the House bill. And while it seems likely the Legislature is going to remove that barrier to graduation, the deal isn’t done yet.

On a 43-to-5 vote, the Senate approved a proposal to drop the requirement that all high school students pass a biology assessment test. The test is typically taken in freshman or sophomore year, at the end of a biology course. Students who fail at that point can retake it multiple times or submit a “collection of evidence” to show they understand the material. They can also submit a grade above a certain score from the science portion of the ACT test.

Even with those options, some 3,300 seniors had not passed the test as of early May and couldn’t qualify for a diploma even though they had completed all other requirements. Most schools are allowing those students to participate in the graduation ceremony and are waiting to see if the Legislature suspends the requirement as it did in 2015. If not, the students would need to keep trying to meet the requirement to get a diploma.

“This is a bill we need to pass right now,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup.

But even some people who voted for Zeiger’s bill said it wasn’t enough.

“The testing problem is bigger than just biology,” Sen. Christina Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said, adding some 2,500 students had passed the biology test but had failed one of the other two. “We’re ignoring the plight of 2,500 other students who are just as worthy.”

Critics say the test for biology, as well as for math and English language, were designed to assess how schools were doing under federal education policies, not to be applied to individual students.

Late last month, the House passed for the third time its fix, which would separate all three assessment test scores from a student’s individual graduation requirement. It’s on the list of bills the Senate could pass, but Zeiger said negotiators can talk about the other two tests in the coming weeks to work out a compromise.

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