How we got to today's graduation requirements

High School Success, Parent & Family Engagement, Parent & Family Newsletter | 02/19/2020

Natalie Hester
Former State Organizing Director


Below is the fifth edition of our Parents & Families newsletter for the 2019-20 school year. If you'd like to receive this monthly in your email inbox, sign up here.

Para información en español, visite este sitio web y seleccione español en la esquina superior izquierda.

Things are finally slowing down for me a little, since we’ve passed the halfway point for the legislative session. At home, my older daughter is now in her second semester of college and my youngest is working her way through 8th grade. 

Last summer I had the honor of celebrating my kid’s high school graduation - a milestone I’ve thought about since she first set foot in preschool. Interestingly, since she walked across the stage, what it takes to graduate in Washington has changed, which means my younger daughter will have different options than her sister did. 

Last month, our newsletter covered the very basics of Washington’s new graduation “pathways.” For this newsletter, I’m hoping I can shed a little more light on what these new pathways actually mean for families like mine and yours. 

Recent history

The simplest place to start is with a refresher on what you must do to graduate high school, and how we got to today. To graduate in Washington, you must:

  • pass all required classes 
  • complete a High School and Beyond Plan
  • demonstrate readiness for life after school - this is now known as a ‘Graduation Pathway’

With the passage of new state legislation, every student now has multiple options - also known as Graduation Pathways - to demonstrate their readiness for life after high school. One of those options continues to be the state assessment (it’s known as the SBA, or Smarter Balanced Assessment - you might remember it in the past as the WASL or the HSPE). Our state has required since 2006 that students meet a certain ‘cut score’ on their SBA in english language arts (ELA) and mathematics in order to graduate high school. As of 2019, however, there are now several ways beyond the SBA to demonstrate readiness to graduate, which is why I’m writing about it today. 

Some things change, some stay the same

An important note to take away from all of this is that students can still demonstrate readiness by meeting the SBA cut score. This means that for many students, nothing has changed. They don’t need to do anything differently. They will still take the SBA as usual in 10th grade, which will help them and you make decisions about the classes they’ll take during the last two years of high school, as part of their High School and Beyond Planning. If they meet the SBA cut score, they will have completed their Graduation Pathway to demonstrate readiness for life after school and can check that requirement off the list!  

For students who score below the SBA cut score threshold, there previously were additional options for them to demonstrate their readiness for life after high school. These alternatives included*: 

  • passing a dual credit course in ELA and/or math through College in the High School, Running Start, or CTE Dual Credit
  • passing a transition Bridge to College course in ELA and/or math
  • meeting a cut score on the SAT/ACT for ELA and/or math
  • meeting a cut score on state-approved AP/IB exams in ELA and/or math 

*Now, all of these former “alternatives” are Graduation Pathways and are available to all students as options to meet graduation requirements in addition to the SBA.

The primary change is that they are no longer ‘alternatives’ to meeting the cut score on the SBA exam as a graduation requirement. Instead, they are now officially Graduation Pathways (see graphic below), which are considered by the state as equal to each other and the SBA as options for demonstrating that a student is prepared for a meaningful first step after high school.

Washington’s New Graduation Pathways


The essence of the changes so far is that students are no longer required to meet a cut score on the SBA to graduate high school. They may still do so, but they may also demonstrate their readiness through another pathway.

More options than before

What is brand-new as of 2019 is that there are now additional Pathways to graduate that did not exist as options before. They were added by the state legislature last April and then the details were worked out in a public process with the State Board of Education in the fall of 2019. These new pathway options include: 

  • completing a CTE (Career and Technical Education) Course Sequence meeting a minimum cut score on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) as posted on the State Board of Education’s website
  • earning a C+ or higher in state-approved AP/IB/Cambridge courses in ELA and/or math
  • meeting a cut score on state-approved Cambridge exams in ELA and/or math
  • meeting a combination of at least one ELA and one math option of the previously listed pathways

At Stand for Children, our team has remained very vocal about our concerns with some of these new pathways, most especially with the CTE Course Sequence and ASVAB options. Our focus is on ensuring that all students, but especially those furthest from educational justice, receive a rigorous education and graduate ready for college and career. It remains to be seen whether or not schools across the state will be supported enough to supply rigorous options across all the pathways. 

I’ll stop here for today - thank you for reading and for continuing to be an advocate for your student and others. If you have any additional questions about pathways or suggestions for how this newsletter can be a better resource, please don’t hesitate to reach out.



Share This Page

Add a comment