Letter to Legislature about the biology end-of-course exam

The State Board of Education supports legislation de-linking the biology end-of-course exam from graduation requirements. The letter below explains the Board’s position; it was sent to all Washington state legislators by email today.

Dear Legislators,
The Washington State Board of Education supports HB 1950, de-linking the high school Biology End of Course assessment from graduation requirements. On March 24, 2015, the results of the Biology Collection of Evidence (COE) were released. The results were discouraging and require your urgent response. Unless legislators act quickly to pass SBE priority legislation de-linking the biology end of course exam from graduation, over 2000 students in Washington State will not graduate in June 2015 due to this one assessment.

The 33 percent pass rate of the January Biology COE submission demonstrates that the Biology End of Course (EOC) doesn’t work in the current graduation assessment landscape. In July 2014, when similar results (34 percent) were returned for the 2014 COE pilot, the Board articulated a legislative priority to end the Biology EOC as a graduation requirement in favor of developing acomprehensive science exam that aligns with Next Generation Science Standards.

The Board considered the following points to determine the biology EOC and alternatives don’t work as part of a meaningful diploma for Washington students:

  • The biology assessment is not based on current Washington standards. The state adopted Next Generation Science Standards in fall 2013; however, the biology end of course exam is written to the old standards.
  • Unlike comprehensive English/language arts and mathematics assessments, where struggling students continue taking math and English classes every year after failing to meet standard, students who do not meet standard on the biology EOC generally do not receive any additional formal instruction in biology before they can attempt a retake of the EOC. This means that struggling students only get further away in time from the original instruction provided.

Successful mitigation of either of the two points can only be accomplished by local districts
committing significantly more resources than the state contributes. I have seen it: in addition to being a member of the State Board of Education, I am also a biology teacher who just finished teaching a class of four COE students; all submitted successful COEs in January. They were successful, but with a student/ teacher ratio of 4:1. Twenty percent of my full-time teaching contract was encumbered to the biology COE. It cost my small, rural district $14,000 to remediate these four students sufficient to meeting standard on the biology COE. It also cost the capacity to staff an additional section of third year science, or the ability to continue to use my time as a TOSA to support our district’s transition to the new teacher evaluation model.

Struggling or at risk students (ELL, homeless, foster students, poverty, trauma) are also the most likely to not have extended learning opportunities to fill in the gap, making it essential to reteach the entire subject before attempting the COE. If the legislature fails to act quickly on this issue, Washington’s most vulnerable students will be the most affected. I hope you will read the attached copy of an email written by a student named Michelle. In 7th grade, due to a family emergency, Michelle was sent away from her family home in Korea to live with an aunt and uncle in Washington. The email was forwarded to me by a distraught biology COE teacher the day after the biology COE scores were released. I am attaching it, with Michelle’s permission because it represents an excellent voice-from-the-field example of why your attention to this matter is so crucial.

Please act quickly to de-link the biology EOC from graduation. More than 2000 students want to graduate with their class in June; teachers, science departments, and districts around the state need to focus instruction on current science standards and developing comprehensive STEM science programs.

Thank you for your time and all that you do for students.
Holly Koon, NBCT AYA-Science
Member, Washington State Board of Education
Biology and CTE Teacher, Mt Baker HS

Student’s letter below:
Hi Mr. Pena I was just wondering what would happen if I didn’t pass. I thought I was going to pass COE test so I ordered cap and gown and everything. But I didn’t pass it.. My parent thinks that I’m gonna graduate for sure and they were helping me with college that I’m planning to go. Everything is stuck because the test I have failed. Am I really not able to graduate if I don’t pass Eoc? I know I put my efforts on that task but I wasn’t smart enough to answer it correct. I really want to graduate and just wanna focus on my future. But that test is over everything. I’m so stressed. It’s just miserable that I can’t graduate just because of that test. I have all my credit, and I have decided what college I’m going to go. But that test takes over everything about my future. I don’t know what to do. Do I have to stick in Mariner for one more year if I don’t pass it? Please answer me with a truth 😦

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4 Responses to Letter to Legislature about the biology end-of-course exam

  1. Why did we implement the requirement to pass science if we are not going to enforce it? We worked hard to assure all our students had the necessary additional instruction to meet the science standard. Now you suggest we don’t need to be accountable for that level of performance. I remember being one of the people who spoke against the implementation at yor meeting because I knew we were not ready as a state. The constantly changing state standard in math and science and the inability for districts to purchase the curriculum to keep up with ever changing standards was an impossible venture, yet many of us worked hard to prepare students in this state of chaos. What do we teach our students when we decide to not hold ourselves accountable? I will bet that we will decide to not hold ourselves accountable to meet the new Smarter Balanced Assessment this year! I bet we will decide that delinking assessments from graduation requirements will improve student performance and increase achievement! I am convinced that we will decide that the new Smarter Balanced Assessment is just too hard on our students even though with each change, schools have continued to improve instructional practices to meet the new assessment. Why don’t we drop assessments for teacher certification since some just can’t quite pass? It isn’t like we need to make sure our students have the knowledge and skills to meet state standards. That was sarcasm if you didn’t catch that! It is very difficult to recommend to our top students to go into the teaching field that can’t decide what standards kids should be held accountable to. As administrators, we are told to hold our staff and students accountable to performance standards and directed to inform parents of the high standards expected. It is no wonder there is a disintegration of the trust of the teaching profession. It is difficult to trust people who tell you one thing and do the opposite. I, for one, am sick and tired of the constant change of focus of the people we are governed by. If the State Board, who governs education practices, can’t set reasonable standards then perhaps we need to change the leadership structure so that we can help schools improve rather than fail. I fully understand that some students can’t perform to these rigorous standards yet the State Board recommends increasingly difficult standards for students to graduate from high school. College bound students can and do perform at these levels even with the changing requirements. I will continue to argue for the students of our society that will repair your cars, feed you at restaurants, raise your children in day care, build your homes, assure your mail and packages are delivered on time, and the salesman you trust when you ask which product is the best value in the store. These are the hard working people that will have a tough time meeting our rigorous standards that the board has set. I am a firm believer in high standards. I am also a firm believer in being held accountable for what we say and the rules before us. Please consider and then reconsider your decisions before implementation next time. I know it would be an innovative idea but perhaps when you ask for public testimony, teachers and administrators inputs could really be considered before you implement change. Who really cared about the most vulnerable students when you set the standard? Did anyone think there would be good kids that could possibly fail? Does anyone out there have friends who are “successful” but struggled or didn’t pass advanced algebra or geometry in high school? You were and are so focused on college bound students that you think a simple waiver of graduation requirements at the local level is the solution for career readiness students who don’t have the desire or aptitude to meet the new 24 credit requirement. Most schools still don’t understand nor have they set policies that direct how to grant the waiver of state requirements for students if needed.

  2. When you look at the failure rate of the Science COE, like any other assessment in class, and its that high one of the most important things you can do is to examine the validity of the test. Riddle me this: how does a student that has lacked consistent education over the last two years pass the Science EOC but a student that mean scores/grades are higher in Math and Science fail the Science COE?

  3. Randomstudent says:

    I am a student in Washington(sophomore) I strongly agree that the Biology eoc is preventing many seniors who I know for a fact work hard , to not graduate. I am taking the eoc as a sophomore and I know for a fact that im not going to pass! About 10 % of our class knows fully understands the material . It is not fair to the teachers and the students! Our teacher explained to us that the Eoc is Graded by anyone at the age of 18 and up . For all i know i could be graded by the smartest biology professor or the most ignorant collage student . We waste so much money as a state already that we could be using to pay our teachers as they should be professionally and hire teachers that want to get in the field of education but don’t want to because wages. Our classes are full most of us are forced to use portables and there’s even classes that are of 40! We are just wasting so much money on test that we could be using for more important matters. I agree that biology is a huge concept of our education but so is history if there is a Biology Eoc why isn’t there a History eoc … History Repeats itself so why cant we learn that instead of biology?! See how silly this may be to someone? I think the biology eoc is just talking up money that could be used to hire more teachers, raise wages and be used for more important recourse’s that could help students learn the material better.—- The random sophomore from Washington.

  4. hi this is a nifty site that you have, thank you 4 sharing it with us.

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