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Statement: ethnic studies grad. requirement

Release Date: 

November 1, 2022

The Board has received several public comments about a potential “vote on ethnic studies” over the past few days. This is not accurate. Please read on to find out what will actually be discussed at this week’s meeting.

Will the Board vote on an ethnic studies graduation requirement this week?

No. The Board will review draft recommendations on graduation requirements. The Board is developing these recommendations for the Legislature in response to the Legislature requesting this information.

Specifically: By law, the Board must report findings and recommendations to the Legislature on the Profile of a Graduate, which was developed by the Mastery-based Learning Work Group based after research and public input. As part of this report, the Legislature authorized the Board to make recommendations to align graduation requirements with the Profile.

The Board will review the draft recommendations at the November Board meeting and is expected to approve the report at the December meeting. Report recommendations do not change anything without further action by the Board or the Legislature.

What does the Board mean by “ethnic studies”?

It’s where many different cultures share their perspectives, achievements, traditions, and experiences. It is designed to help eradicate fear, structural racism, and social inequities by promoting knowledge and understanding.

It is about positive racial and ethnic identity, improved student outcomes including grades and test scores, increased rates of high school completion, a greater sense of belonging, and greater likelihood to contribute to positive social change.

It is not:

  • about a single course or class.
  • the idea that any race is superior to another.
  • about blaming or making students feel guilty about their race or identity.
  • indoctrination.

Also, the Board is not promoting a particular ethnic studies curriculum. In Washington, decisions about curriculum are typically made at the local school district level.

What does the law say about ethnic studies and our state’s learning standards?

In Washington, the law requires the state to review and update state learning standards that address global citizenship to incorporate best practices in ethnic studies. State learning standards are defined as “the knowledge and skills all public school students need to know and be able to do” based on the goals of basic education (RCW 28A.655.070). In other words, the Legislature has already required ethnic studies to be combined into the learning standards designed for all public school students.

The Board’s interest in creating an ethnic studies graduation requirement builds upon what is already required.

What does “within the current credit framework” mean?

The Board has not recommended that anything be added or taken away from the current framework of subject area and credit requirements. Instead, the Board adopted a resolution expressing its intent to create an ethnic studies graduation requirement that students would meet through the existing credits and subject areas. Ethnic studies is inherently interdisciplinary, and an English Language Arts course, social studies course, or others could be taught through an ethnic studies lens. It can exist within the current framework.

To be clear, the Board is not adding an additional course or credit graduation requirement. And, the ethnic studies requirement would be met through existing requirements. The Board’s vision is that courses in the current framework may count for meeting the ethnic studies requirement if they meet the following conditions:

  • they cover enough learning standards that incorporate ethnic studies, and
  • the educators have successfully completed specified professional learning experiences.

Recommendations that the Board will review this week:

  1. Support the work of the Financial Education Public Private Partnership and build capacity for districts to offer high quality financial education
  2. Create more flexibility in physical education and health to allow for mental health content
    • Recommend revising and consolidating physical education and health learning standards, include mental health and other required offering.
    • Until learning standards are revised, change requirements to 1 credit of physical education and 1 credit of health, to include more mental health content in health.
  3. Develop a state policy for the waiver/excusal of physical education so that awarding of mastery/competency credit is more uniform
  4. Ensure districts implement the Since Time Immemorial curriculum 
  5. Partner with advocates to build coalition on the implementation of Ethnic Studies 
  6. Support English learners in meeting graduation requirements and increase opportunities for students to earn the Seal of Biliteracy
  7. Focus on learning standards rather than on seat time to support mastery-based learning and interdisciplinary learning
  8. Improve the High School and Beyond Plan through state support for one or a limited number   of online platforms that would improve uniformity and portability
  9. Improve the high school transcript to support better reporting of mastery-based learning, multidisciplinary learning, and more detail on how high graduation requirements are met

View the entire presentation with more detail on current law in Washington around ethnic studies, and the recommendations that SBE is required to report to the legislature. on SBE’s meetings site. Live public comment will be accepted, but it is much earlier than usual. Please attend by 9:00 a.m. and sign-in via chat (on Zoom) if you’d like to give comment on agenda items.

Media Contact: 

Stephanie Davidsmeyer
Director of Communications