In 2014, after eight long years of work, Washington state updated its high school graduation requirements. The League of Education Voters worked with partners and community members to pass this 24-credit College and Career Ready Diploma.
Now the work begins for many school districts in implementing the new diploma. However, a number of districts are ahead of the game, and some have been for many years.
One such school district is West Valley, in the Yakima area. West Valley began requiring 24 credits for high school graduation beginning in the 2001–2002 school year, when they increased their English language and social studies requirements. The second phase of the transition to a College and Career Ready Diploma happened in the 2006–2007 school year, when the district increased their math and science requirements. In 2013, more than 80 percent of their seniors graduated from high school, and of those who graduated, 67 percent continued onto college.
The move to a College and Career Ready Diploma is part of a larger strategic plan laid out for West Valley by Superintendent Dr. Mike Brophy. The plan emphasizes all areas of an education continuum, beginning with early learning and continuing through postsecondary training. The district has developed collaborate relationships with preschool and childcare facilities, both public and private, throughout the region in order to support early childhood education in their future students. The district has also implemented full-day kindergarten, benchmarks for math and reading in elementary and middle school, and rigorous high school academics that prepare students for their next step in life.
But the term “college and career ready” is a misnomer, says Chris Nesmith, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Director for West Valley School District. The ultimate goal, he says, is to get students ready for their career. This will most certainly include some form of postsecondary education or training, which may be college, or may be some other form of vocational or technical training. Being “college ready” isn’t enough, either. “The goal is not to get students to college and wish them luck. The goal is to get them through college and ready for their career.”
As part of their work to graduate all students ready for life after high school, West Valley began offering sixteen different CTE programs and created a comprehensive CTE program planner to help students plan for high school and beyond. If they plan out their courses carefully, Chris says, students could complete two different programs by the time they graduate. West Valley is also offering as many dual-credit, AP, and College in the High School courses as it can so that students have as many options as possible. Students are taking advantage of those options, too. In 2013–2014, about 79 percent of high school juniors and seniors were enrolled in dual-credit courses.
Dr. Peter Finch, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for West Valley School District, says that their success is thanks to their support of both students and teachers. “We invest in students but we also really invest in our teachers. Every new teacher is matched with a mentor for their first two years of teaching. And every student has a high-quality teacher every day.”