Washington is one of four states in the country that require high school students to pass a single standardized test to graduate, also known as “high-stakes” testing, said Longview Superintendent Dan Zorn. Only 12 states use some form of a testing requirement, he said.
House Bill 1046, sponsored by state Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, would essentially removing high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement. Although the test would still exist, students wouldn’t be required to pass it. The bill passed overwhelmingly with a 92-6 vote in the House with both 19th District state Reps. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, supporting it. State Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, also supports the bill and expects it to get similar support in the Senate.
“It puts an unnecessary barrier in front of students who might otherwise graduate from high school,” Zorn said, adding there hasn’t been much research done to prove the benefits of a high-stakes test.
“There’s a lot of us that are frustrated about these high-stakes tests,” Takko said.
MacEwen estimates that the practice has been in place for more than 10 years. Give the bill’s overwhelming bipartisan support, why did it take this long to stop it?
During his time as a state Representative, Takko co-sponsored a 2015 House bill by Chris Reykdal — current superintendent of public instruction, but a legislator then — that would have eliminated the assessment requirement for graduation. The bill failed to make it out of the Appropriations Committee.
“I’m not as versed on some of the education stuff as maybe I should be,” Takko said. “We have a lot of educators in the Legislature, so they’re the ones that have always taken the lead on things dealing with education.”
MacEwen said the testing requirement ended up on his radar because he’s a parent. He said some groups who may feel that the state would be lowering its standards have been lobbying hard against the bill.
“This was actually written in the pretext — these were not designed to be a measure of student progress towards graduate,” MacEwen said. “Yet in the state, that’s what we’ve done.”
Another House bill put forward this year that removes the non-federal standardized testing altogether hasn’t made it out of the Education Committee. Educators have said they want to keep the tests as performance indicators for administrators — not for the tests to hinder students from graduating.
MacEwen said he may not have had the influence in his first two terms in office to lobby for the bill. He put the bill forward solo in December, he said, because he felt strongly about it and didn’t have the time to seek co-sponsors before his vacation. But he said he expected the bill to pass with bipartisan support.
“Sometimes you kind of just sense those things,” he said, “that a lot of people have held the viewpoint but no one really has spoken out.”