School board passes plan for new graduation requirements

By Oliver Lazenby

After nearly three years of work, the Blaine school board adopted policies this week to help high school students meet new, tougher state requirements for high school graduation.

Next year’s freshman class at Blaine High School will need 24 credits to graduate, rather than the 22 the school required this year. Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation in April 2014 outlining the new requirements, which aim to make high school graduation requirements more similar to college-entry requirements, while also providing flexibility for students who want to pursue non-college career paths.

The new requirement took effect for most districts in the state for the class of 2019, but Blaine and dozens of other districts got a two-year waiver to spend more time preparing.

“I think we’re prepared now,” said high school principal Scott Ellis. “It’s going to be different, that’s for sure.”

Next year’s freshmen will need one more lab science credit, two world language credits and an extra credit in art. The arts and world language credits are flexible, and can be partially replaced with credits in subjects that students have determined are important to their post-high-school plans. They’ll also need two-and-a-half fewer
electives credits.

This year’s Blaine graduates needed to earn 3.5 English credits, three math credits, three social studies credits, two science credits, one art credit, half a health credit, two physical education credits, one occupational education credit and six elective credits.

The district’s years of preparation resulted in several new programs to help get students to 24 credits, starting with credit-earning opportunities in middle school. Eighth graders can earn credit for passing algebra and for completing a plan for what to do after high school, called a “personalized pathway” plan.

Blaine High School will offer several new sections of classes and a new biomedical science class that can count as either a science credit, an occupational education credit or an elective, district superintendent Ron Spanjer said.

The school will also switch to a two-period lunch that will give students a half-hour for lunch and a half-hour to either get help from an instructor or study on their own. Students can already get extra help after school, but the extra lunch period will give students who participate in sports a chance to get that extra help.

To add the extra lunch session, however, the school has to shorten the rest of the class periods by a few minutes each, resulting in less instruction time.

For students who fail a class by a narrow margin, a credit retrieval program will allow them to get credit through a supplementary online program. For emergency and unusual circumstances, students can apply to waive two elective credits. Those unusual circumstances include homelessness, illness, disability and personal crisis, according to the district’s policy. The school will decide whether to approve waivers on an individual basis, Spanjer said.

“That’s a fallback piece,” he said. “I don’t anticipate a significant amount of those will be granted.”

The district is also looking for other opportunities for flexibility, including offering more college credits offered through a new College in the Classroom program, and offering language classes online that it can’t provide on campus, Spanjer said.

In addition to the new credit requirement, next year’s freshmen will also have to pass several state assessments, make and continually update a “High School and Beyond Plan,” which is designed to inform students’ elective choices.

Spanjer and Ellis hope the 24-credit requirement will make Blaine graduates better prepared for life after high school without affecting the graduation rate. Spanjer thinks that’s possible; nearly half of Blaine High School graduates are already earning 24 credits, he said.

“We’re not just responding to the 24-credit threshold, we’re also responding to the needs and interests of kids and looking for ways to accommodate their programs in more flexible ways,” Spanjer said.

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