High School Testing Out–or, the Battle Between OSSE and the State BOE

In DC, there is no shortage of public education opinion makers–but very few clear lines of decision making, much less public authority in them.

The ongoing discussion of testing out of courses in DC public high schools is an excellent example.

The state board of education (SBOE), DC’s only elected body that directly affects public school decision making, convened a task force in 2015 to look into flexibility in determining high school credits. The idea was that there should be equity in standards across schools, while ensuring that all learners, no matter what their circumstances, would have adequate accommodations and credits.

In December, that task force released a report with recommendations, which OSSE (the office of the state superintendent of education, whose head is appointed by the mayor) can choose to implement–or not.

One of those recommendations was to allow high school students to test out of foreign language and math courses. The idea was that students demonstrating mastery of a foreign language or math at a certain level determined to be sufficient for high school credit should be allowed to test out of any further course requirements.

Despite that flexibility, the task force also made it clear that in no other subjects did it want such testing, because there is no similarly clear demarcation of mastery for other subjects (say, history or literature).

Apparently, OSSE didn’t get all of that memo.

Instead, OSSE is proposing to let students test out of any high school course–and thus get high school credits for any subject if their test scores are high enough.

All of this is coming to a head tomorrow, Wednesday February 17:

Starting at 10 am on Wednesday 2/17, the city council’s education committee will hold a performance oversight hearing for OSSE, at which opponents to OSSE’s proposed rule making for high school credits are expected to speak. (All city council hearings are held at DC’s own city hall, the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.)

That same day of Wednesday 2/17, starting at 5:30 pm at 441 4th Street NW, the SBOE will hold its monthly meeting, at which public commentary is invited on this subject.

In addition, there is a petition circulating (with the not-so-subtle title “Don’t Let Tests be a Substitute for a Strong Education”) that demands SBOE oppose OSSE’s proposed rule making on this.

Of course, SBOE can only make recommendations, so even once it votes on this one way or another (expected in early March), OSSE is under no obligation to it one way or another. [2/17/16: Correction: SBOE needs to vote on all graduation requirements, so in this case, their will is binding. See comment below–many thanks for it. vj]

It’s moments like this when the folks in Virginia, who recently rejected faceless state bureaucrats imposing charter schools willy nilly across the state because of the (obvious) funding threat such unaccountable actions posed to existing public schools and their communities, seem to have a finger on something: that is, the weird idea that elected officials should be responsive to the folks who elected them, who happen to be the same folks who pay their salaries and fund public schools.

Who knows? Maybe we in DC can expect that same radical notion called democracy in public education decision making when the cross-sector task force (finally) meets (also) tomorrow, Wednesday 2/17.

One thought on “High School Testing Out–or, the Battle Between OSSE and the State BOE

  1. Valerie,
    It is my understanding that with graduation requirements the Board’s vote is required. They are not advisory in this area so it matters.

    Also the intent with allowing students to take a test to demonstrate mastery in Algebra is so they can move on in the content area not test out of it In world languages it is similar, if they can demonstrate that they are fully bi-lingual or that they have mastered all of the first year they should be able to move on in that area.

    The other courses are not sequential and defined in the same way. There is also an unlimited amount for a high school student to be exposed to in the humanities, sciences, and arts. We are really concerned that the whole curriculum will be reduced to what can be measured on a test.

    Cathy Reilly


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