Anatomy of the Biology End-of-Course Requirement

The 2015 legislative session will be noteworthy in history for a number of reasons. Significant investments in K-12 education (and possibly a looming Supreme Court response). A transportation package. Tuition cuts at our state’s public universities.

Another reason it might be noteworthy is the shift it foreshadows in science assessment and high school graduation requirements in our state.

After nearly six months of debate, the legislature finally settled on a one word change in the statute in SB 6145. The effect is to delay the use of the Biology End of Course (EOC) as a high school graduation requirement for the classes of 2015 (retroactively) and the class of 2016. The Class of 2017 and beyond, however, still must meet the requirement.

The State Board of Education has been asking the legislature to reevaluate using biology as a science assessment since October. So we think the legislature did the right thing… but only sort of.  The Board would prefer the state end the use of Biology EOC as a graduation requirement permanently.

A temporary suspension of biology suggests that the main problem is that not enough kids pass the Biology EOC. The assumption seems to be that if we give them more time (in this case, 2 more years) they ultimately will. This thinking is evident in the intent section of the bill, as well as the budget note language included for the modest investments that were made for math and science professional development.

The pass rates for Biology EOC are indeed a problem, but they are not the main problem. The main problem is that the biology exam is the wrong test to require for high school graduation.

We should be intentional about what we assess, and why. And we shouldn’t require a test for graduation simply because it’s what we have at the time, and we don’t have a better one to replace it. Rather, our focus should be on the positive ways in which assessments can reinforce accountability for standards in those content and skill areas the state highly values for its graduates. The goal, always, is to make all students career and college-ready.

The problem is that the time and resources being deployed in our system toward the biology EOC assessment is considerably out-of-sync with the relative importance of that test for what it means to be college and career ready in science. The state’s recently adopted next generation science standards (NGSS) are our road map for what we want students to know and be able to do. Biology is important, but ultimately just one part of those comprehensive standards. Is retaking the biology EOC three times an important part of a student’s journey to college and career readiness? Probably not.

Meanwhile, as a system we await the development of a new assessment that is aligned to the NGSS standards. Such an assessment is under construction and might be available preliminarily in the 2017-18 school year. Thinking ahead, the legislature may not want phase in a new science assessment for students mid-way through their high school career. If they stick with that practice – and they probably should – then the assessment could conceivably replace the Biology EOC as a graduation requirement for students in 8th grade that first year, 2017-18. They would be the class of 2022. So, absent additional legislative action, we are still potentially looking at six or more graduating classes for which the Biology EOC requirement remains.

Ultimately, tests should be few. And they should be chosen carefully. Those tests that are required should directly reinforce the breadth of our state content standards. Our newly implemented Math and English language arts assessments are fine examples of that. The Biology EOC is not.

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2 Responses to Anatomy of the Biology End-of-Course Requirement

  1. So I looked up the most recent data on the Biology EOC pass rates.

    The percent of students who did not meet standards from 2013-14:
    Male 29.6%
    Female 29.39%

    American Indian 53.29%
    Asian/Pacific Islander 26.3%
    Black 50.79%
    Hispanic 46.79%
    White 21%
    Asian 21.8%
    Pacific Islander 58.89%
    Two or More Races 27.69%

    I’m wondering- does the data suggest there’s something that we should be considering in terms of ethnicity and these tests?

  2. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for your question. I’ve asked Senior Policy Analyst Andrew Parr to help with an answer. Here’s what he says:
    ”We know that family circumstances, language ability, special needs, and other factors contribute to unequal educational outcomes. The State Board of Education (SBE) monitors these achievement gaps through the Statewide Indicators of the Educational System (ESSB 5491 of 2013) and proposed reforms or interventions in the 2015 Report to the Legislature to support systemic improvement of the educational system.
    SBE advocates ample funding of education as specified in the McCleary decision and other issues we believe will result in more equitable educational outcomes. The SBE is committed to bolstering educational outcomes for all Washington children.”
    For more about the SBE’s role in advocating for improved student outcomes, check out this video:
    Let me know if this helps or you have more questions.

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