State School Superintendent Chris Reykdal is “all for” testing standards in schools, but he says they shouldn’t determine whether students graduate from high school and receive their diploma.
“Those assessments are there for us to tell us how we’re performing as systems — as a state, as a district, as schools,” Reykdal said as he paced the stage of the Kelso High School auditorium Wednesday.
Reykdal addressed a group of about 50 Kelso and Longview educators and administrators for about an hour and a half Wednesday afternoon. Among other topics, he called for boosting the state’s committment to school funding and predicted what educators can expect from the Trump Administration.
Reykdal affirmed that he supported decoupling final high school exams with graduation, as well as creating more opportunities for students who don’t want to follow the four-year university pathway.
Right now, Washington students must pass a high school exit exam in language arts and math to earn a high school diploma.
“(The exams) were never designed as a labor market filter to say you don’t get a diploma or you do,” Reykdal said. “Imagine you were a real estate agent and you were selling homes all year, and they say you don’t get a single commission unless the last home you sell in December is your biggest sale ever.”
If a student fails to earn a high school diploma, Reykdal warned, it means an average $370,000 less in lifetime earnings for that student: “the difference between renting and owning a house.” It also means an additional average $300,000 in healthcare costs, criminal justice costs or social safety net expenses for taxpayers.
The Legislature is considering a bill that would address Reykdal’s concerns: House Bill 1046 would retain the exams but eliminate the need to pass for graduation. The bill passed the House on March 6 and is now in committee in the Senate, where it is up for a hearing on March 20 by the Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education.
Reykdal also expressed his support for alternatives to the four-year university track for students.
“Our one-size-fits- all system is actually leaving behind the ones who we most want to engage with at times,” Reykdal said.
But creating alternative pathways for students requires funding. Right now, Reykdal said, the state spends about 2.9 percent of its gross domestic product on education, while the average rate is about 3.6 percent in the U.S. Bringing Washington up to average would cost an additional $3 billion annually, he said.
“You’re talking about a significant infusion of resources above what we have today.”
While Reykdal said it’s very likely that some sort of property tax reform will end up in the final plan to comply with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which mandates the state fully fund basic education. However, that won’t take care of everything needed to make Washington’s schools exceptional, Reykdal said.
“You will see some attempt to lower property taxes in rural Washington and raise them in urban Washington,” Reykdal said. “But then what? How do we get special education funded? And market-rate compensation (for teachers) and career and tech-education programs?”
Reykdal indicated that his vision includes more individualized pathways for students, and it’s going to take the courage to make a bit more investment.
“This is our moment to say ‘Why do we do things the way we do them?’” Reykdal asked. “Is it such that every single program should lead students to a four-year pathway?
Reykdal said he doesn’t expect to address all of that this year, or even within the next four years of his term as state superintendent. It might even take a decade or longer.
“But I think this is the kind of year where we’re asking the most challenging questions we ever have in public education,” Reykdal said. “So... we cannot just redefine the system based on its financial structure, but on what it intends to do for all kids.”