Planning begins for Washington law offering new pathways to high school graduation

By: - August 17, 2023 4:09 pm

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Washington students will soon be able to use workforce experience to graduate high school. 

At a State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, members began hammering out proposed rules to put House Bill 1308 into effect. The law, approved during this year’s legislative session, allows high school students to move toward graduation by completing a “performance-based learning experience,” such as professional skill-building, internships, or community service. 

“Our young people who are demonstrating proficiency ought to be able to show that in ways other than what we see in our traditional classroom settings,” Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, who sponsored the bill, said at the board meeting. 

The law will turn workforce experience into a “graduation pathway” in Washington. Graduation pathways were established in 2019, giving high school students different avenues toward graduation. The original paths are either focused on completing class credits or passing tests. 

Kevin Wang, a Board of Education member from Bellevue, worried that small and medium-sized businesses may not be interested in participating in the new initiative, especially due to liability concerns. Wang suggested incentives such as tax credits could help. 

But Stonier said employers will come around once they see the benefits of getting to prepare students for jobs at their businesses, particularly as many employers report that classrooms do not equip students for jobs. 

The new law also requires schools to use state evaluation tools and include at least one certified teacher, endorsed in a relevant subject area, to evaluate whether a student has met graduation requirements. 

Wang asked how that would work if a student chooses a real-world experience like selling cars that does not easily align with traditional school subjects.

Linda Drake, the board’s director of career and college readiness, said schools will have to determine how a work experience like that would match various subjects. Stonier pointed out selling cars involves communication skills, English and math. 

“I spent a lot of time watching people do weird jobs and thinking, ‘what would that pathway look like?’” Stonier said. 

School board members discussed how the program could involve asking teachers to take on more work, how the new graduation pathway would look for special education students and how to ensure school districts have minimum standards in place for the initiative. 

Approval of proposed rules for HB 1308 is set to take place at a September Board of Education meeting.

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng joined the Washington State Standard shortly after graduating from Northwestern University in June 2023. Grace, who currently lives in Tacoma, is a local Washingtonian who was born and raised in Snohomish County. She has previous experience covering statehouse politics and policy for the Minnesota Reformer and the USA TODAY Ohio Network, which includes the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron-Beacon Journal.