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Advocates press for highly capable testing for all students

School districts should be required to test all students to see if they qualify for more challenging classes.

That is the message behind Substitute Senate Bill 5072, proposed by T’wina Nobles, D-Fircrest. It requires districts to screen all students during the school day for participation in a “Highly Capable Program (HCP).

“With this model, every student in a grade level gets to be considered, and no student is overlooked.” Nobles said. “Districts that have implemented universal screening are seeing the results improve equity for advanced students.”

Each school district must select a grade level to implement universal screening procedures. The screening must occur during or before the second grade and again during or before the sixth grade.

Currently, students can be referred to the program by their teachers or a parent through a referral form, but many families aren’t aware of the program and lawmakers say they worry some students might not receive the attention they need.

“Black, Latinx, Native, low-income, English learners, and students with disabilities are disproportionately excluded [from HCP] by a magnitude of two to three times and sometimes more,” Sen. Nobles said.

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, agreed.

“Not every student has the same advocates,” Wagoner said. “Perhaps their parents don’t know about opportunities, or they’re not interested in them. This bill is important for children who don’t have those advocates.”

Annette Fernandez-French testified on behalf of the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)in support of SSB 5072.

“This bill removes logistical and increases the likelihood that HCP students from marginalized backgrounds who have historically been overlooked will be identified and receive the services that they deserve,” Fernandez-French said.

The state allocates funding for the HCP based on 5% of each school’s district’s student population. The bill does not limit HCP services so schools can identify and serve more students beyond 5% with the regular budget.

Many school districts currently have students take an HCP test on Saturdays or after school at other locations that require special transportation.

This bill requires districts to screen all students during the regular school day. Lawmakers believe schools can save funds by testing during the day.

“North Shore actually saved almost 50% of their identification budget, a savings of $140,000 when they no longer had to pay staff to conduct the costly Saturday testing sessions,” Sen. Nobles said.

Myra Arnone, Director of Accelerated Programs for the Lake Washington School District, said Lake Washington currently screens all its students for the program and is now in the assessment process. The district has gone from 4,500 applications in 2022 to 6,500 this year.

“Our district has already moved the assessment to the school day and the school building. And as part of that transition toward accessibility, we found that we’ve had to increase staffing for tests. So, we support the intention of the bill and ask members to ensure that these new requirements and costs are funded.”

Logan Endres, of the Washington State School Directors Association, also said increases in funding are needed.

The association wants the legislature to raise the HCP funding from 5% to 10% because districts cannot support existing highly capable programs, Endres said.

“According to OSP’s report card, 78 districts are already serving over 5% of their students, and 20 districts are serving over 10%. So, I just look forward to working with you to consider the future of this bill,” Endres said.

Annually, beginning Nov. 1, 2023, OSPI must make a new data set regarding HCP programs available to the public.

This data will include a comparison of the race, ethnicity, and low-income status of HCP students compared to the same demographic groups in the general student population of each school district.

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