Graduation Toolkit

COVID-19 Graduation Policy Tools for School Boards 

This information will also be published in the next issue of WSSDA’s Policy and Legal News. We’re publishing it early due to the urgency of the current situation. 

The novel coronavirus outbreak has created extraordinary challenges that have been met with extraordinary responses from school districts across the nation. Here in Washington, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has worked tirelessly to provide innovative solutions, supports, and much-needed guidance to help school districts with their response. Similarly, the State Board of Education (SBE) has stepped in to address crucial issues regarding graduation for the class of 2020. Specifically, SBE adopted emergency rules that allow school districts to apply for an emergency waiver of credits, including core course credits. The purpose of the emergency waiver is to protect students in the graduating class of 2020 or earlier who were on track to graduate from being negatively impacted by the governor’s COVID-19 emergency proclamation on February 29, 2020. And now, WSSDA is contributing crucial tools for school boards to help implement SBE’s emergency waiver program. 

Good faith effort

SBE’s emergency waiver, which expires on July 31, 2020, requires school districts to make a “good faith effort” to support their students in meeting graduation requirements through existing local authority before seeking the emergency waiver. This means that districts will have considered all options to support individual students in meeting credit requirements. Options to support students include:

  • Implementing OSPI guidance, in particular, Bulletin 022-20;
  • Providing students opportunities to earn credits, such as competency/mastery credits; and
  • Waiving of elective or locally imposed credits. 

After considering all options, districts should determine which they can feasibly provide, then examine individual student circumstances to determine what is needed and appropriate. After districts make this good faith effort to support students in meeting their graduation requirements, districts should use SBE’s emergency waiver to seek a waiver for any remaining unmet credits. The SBE has created a helpful FAQ on the emergency waiver. 

New model resolution

To help districts make use of emergency waivers, WSSDA has created tools for boards to help students graduate. The first is Model Resolution 2419R – Emergency Waiver of High School Graduation Credits Resolution. This is a model board resolution specific to authorizing your Superintendent to implement the emergency waiver in response to the COVID-19 school closures. Nothing in the emergency rules requires a board resolution, nor do boards have to pass a resolution to implement the emergency waiver process. However, given the extraordinary step of waiving core course credits, we recommend you use the model resolution. The resolution reinforces the local school board’s authority to decide whether a student has met graduation requirements. It also includes language acknowledging that your Superintendent may have already begun using the emergency waiver process and affirms that your board is now explicitly sanctioning that action. Additionally, the model resolution includes specific language affirming that districts will make the necessary good faith effort. Please note, Model Resolution 2419R will sunset in tandem with the emergency rules on July 31, 2020. 

Crucial role of competency-based credit

The use of competency/mastery-based crediting plays an important role in successfully implementing the emergency waiver program because it shows the good faith effort discussed above. In fact, providing competency/mastery-based crediting may be crucial for students whose schools have closed in response to COVID-19. 

There are several possible approaches to awarding credit. Competency/mastery-based credit can occur when a student has not passed or taken a course but demonstrates competency in one of the following ways: a.) passing the corresponding state assessment; b.) by taking a higher-level course in a clear sequence (for example passing Algebra II without taking Algebra I); c.) by meeting an assessment that is aligned to the state learning standards as determined by your district. An example of an assessment determined by a district would be using a student’s portfolio to assess a student based on the state learning standards. With any of the above approaches, the awarding of credit can apply to both, distance learning provided by a district, and learning that the student has performed on their own.

New model policies

Important to note, WAC 180-51-050 requires local school boards to adopt an authorizing policy before districts can award competency/mastery-based credit. WSSDA Model Policy 2409 – World Languages is an example of such a policy and has been available for over a decade. That model policy is designed for competency/proficiency credit specifically in world languages, and includes a statement that says districts can expand the policy to multiple subjects. However, the SBE’s data collection (as noted in the SBE/WSSDA joint guidance) indicates that the subject most commonly credited through competency-based policies remains world languages. 

To help districts meet the prerequisite of having adopted an authorizing policy, WSSDA has developed several new model polices for specific subjects:

  • 2402 – English Language Arts
  • 2403 – Math
  • 2404 – Science
  • 2405 – Social Studies 
  • 2406 – Art 
  • 2407 – Health and Fitness
  • 2408 – Integrated Environmental and Sustainability Education 

Districts that do not already have authorizing policies in place are encouraged to adopt any or all of these policies to maximize the opportunity to award students with credits that meet high school graduation requirements, despite the COVID-19 outbreak. We recommend that you waive first reading and move to second reading and adoption so that your district can award competency/mastery-based credit to this year’s seniors. 

Most of the new policies also have model procedures. The procedures differ based on the subject matter because not every subject area has the same options for demonstrating competency. One reason for this is that not all subjects are closely sequenced or scaffolded. For example, Algebra II is built upon the knowledge of Algebra I, so passing Algebra II demonstrates competency in Algebra I. However, that same relationship of building upon a sequence of learning does not apply to every subject. The model policy designates passing the next related course with a grade of “C” as sufficient. However, boards have the discretion to designate the grade needed. The procedures also allow boards to customize how much credit is awarded. 

Notably, there is no procedure for Model Policy 2408 – Integrated Environmental and Sustainability Education (IESE). This is because it does not appear to be feasible to create a credit retrieval/competency policy for this subject area based on either the state subject and credit requirements under WAC 180-51-067 or OSPI’s education standards for IESE. The IESE standards are designed to be integrated into other subject areas, and rarely, if ever, stand alone. 

Please know that WSSDA is working with OSPI to develop more robust procedures to accompany all of these new model polices. This will take some time. Meanwhile, boards now have tools that allow their districts to get started now. Although we’re looking to improve the procedures, the new model policies and procedures for competency/mastery-based credit are not temporary. In other words, they do not sunset or expire. These are tools for your district to award credit, and your district can continue to use them to benefit students.  

Course equivalencies

Separate from providing competency-based credit is awarding equivalency credit. There are several ways of awarding equivalency credit – all with different statutes and rules. We wanted to make the model policy as comprehensive as possible so we revised Model Policy 2413 – Equivalency Credit such that it now includes provisions for awarding equivalency credit for experiential education opportunities. As part of this revision, we’ve retitled the policy (formerly Equivalency Credit for Career and Technical Education Courses) to accurately reflect that it is no longer specific to Career and Technical education. As with the competency/mastery-based credit policies, this policy is not temporary; it does not sunset or expire. This is another way to continue to support your students with flexible ways to earn credits.

Existing waiver authority

Remember, House Bill 1599, which passed in 2019, gave school boards local authority to waive two of the twenty-four credits required for students to be eligible for graduation. However, the same legislation required that districts adopt a waiver policy to do so. Last summer, WSSDA revised Model Policy and Procedure 2418 – Waiver of High School Graduation Credits to meet those needs. This is not the same waiver as the emergency waiver. Instead, it is a way that your district can demonstrate good faith in taking steps to support students before seeking the emergency waiver. This policy did not need revision, but WSSDA is including it with these tools to make sure boards have it if they have not already adopted it. Again, this is not a temporary policy. It does not sunset or expire and your board will be able to use it year after year. 

Learn more about WSSDA’s model policies and Policy and Legal News.

Policies & Resolution

2402/2402P – English Language Arts

2403/2403P – Math

2404/2404P – Science

2405/2405P – Social Studies

2406/2406P – The Arts

2407/2407P – Health and Fitness

2408 – Integrated Environmental and Sustainability Education

2409 – World Language Competency (EXISTING)

2413 – Equivalency Credit (REVISED)

2418 / 2418P – Waiver of High School Graduation Credits (EXISTING)

2419R – Emergency Waiver of High School Graduation Credits Resolution


From SBE