Thoughts on the Graduation Requirements Emergency Waiver Program

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted the education of K-12 students across our state. In response, the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) created the Graduation Emergency Waiver Program (GREW) to allow school districts, charter schools, tribal compact schools, state schools, and private schools to waive certain graduation requirements on an individual student basis and allow for the waiver of certain requirements for private schools. 

In 2021, the Washington State Legislature enacted HB 1121 (codified in RCW 28A.230.320). This allowed for school districts and other local educational agencies to apply to the SBE for authorization to grant waivers from subject requirements if:

  • The student’s ability to complete the requirement was impeded due to a significant disruption resulting from a local, state, or national emergency
  • The school district demonstrates a good faith effort to support the individual student in meeting the requirement before considering an emergency waiver
  • The student was reasonably expected to graduate in the school year that the emergency waiver is granted
  • The student has demonstrated skills and knowledge indicating preparation for the next steps identified in their High School and Beyond Plan and for success in postsecondary education, gainful employment, and civic engagement

School districts and other local educational agencies must apply to the SBE for authority.

Joint Recommendations to SBE

In 2021, COP, along with our partners at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Independent Colleges of Washington, and Washington Roundtable, jointly wrote to the SBE to offer the following recommendations in implementing HB 1121:

  • Consider compelling districts to demonstrate a “good faith effort” to support students in meeting graduation requirements prior to considering an emergency waiver
  • Require the high school transcript or equivalent as evidence of skills and knowledge through completion of high school core credits and grades earned
  • Limit additional waivers that go beyond the two-credit waiver for individual student circumstances to non-core credit courses for both the Class of 2021 and Class of 2022
  • Ensure that students are not allowed to waive both a course and a graduation pathway option in the same subject
  • Encourage language that bolsters collaboration between high school counselors and higher education institutions
  • Urge documentation for the emergency waivers to include language that recommends students contact postsecondary institutions, or apprenticeship providers regarding impact of the emergency waiver as it pertains to admissions, apprenticeship completion and degree attainment

According to a January 2022 SBE report to the Legislature, of the 84,828 students in the Class of 2021, approximately 6% or 5,066 students attending one of 212 school districts and local education agencies were granted the ability to waive a total of 9,561 courses through GREW. English Language Arts and social studies and history courses were the most likely to be waived, accounting for nearly 50% total courses waived. Math and science courses each accounted for nearly 10% of waived courses.

Looking Ahead

The Board is currently considering extending the waiver to include students from the Classes of 2023 and 2024. Last week, COP sent a letter to SBE Executive Director Randy Spaulding and Chair Bill Kallappa expressing concerns with waivers that do not align with the state’s admission policy, particularly of core credits in Mathematics and English that are critical to completion of a postsecondary credential. Our view is that the waiver of core academic courses is challenging if not combined with other criteria for student success. Academically unprepared students who struggle at the postsecondary level are more likely to experience delays in completing their degree. Waiving a graduation pathway and a course, particularly in a core credit area, increases the chances that students will not be adequately prepared for success not only in higher education but also in the workforce.

We greatly appreciate language in the current rules to districts about the waiver being a last resort and considering the waiver only after making a good faith effort to support students meeting all requirements. We also continue to endorse meaningful High School and Beyond Plans that assist students in preparing for the next step of their educational and life journey.

Next Steps

The SBE is scheduled to take action during its next meeting on May 11-12. Public comment is being received via until May 6. There is also a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, April 26 at 2:00 p.m. via Zoom.

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