Prepared or not, end-of-course exam for all sophomores

Tim Fowler, a biology teacher at Olympic High School, talks to his students at the start of class Tuesday. - Kristin Okinaka
Tim Fowler, a biology teacher at Olympic High School, talks to his students at the start of class Tuesday.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka

It wasn’t a difficult decision to take honors biology this school year for Anisa Hiser, a sophomore at Olympic High School.

“I chose to,” said Hiser. “I enjoyed life science in 7th grade and for the longest time I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

At the end of the school year, Hiser will take the state 10th grade Biology End-of-Course Exam and not just with her classmates, but with all 10th graders regardless of whether they are enrolled in a biology course or not.

This will be the first school year where students in 10th grade must take the Biology EOC in order to fulfill the No Child Left Behind requirement to assess science in high school.

Although it will not count as a graduation requirement for Hiser and her fellow sophomores, next year’s sophomores — and beyond — will need to pass the exam in order to graduate high school.

Because not all sophomores take biology in the Central Kitsap and Bremerton school districts, administrators and teachers are discussing how to address supporting all 10th graders to prepare for the Biology EOC.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” said Tim Fowler, a biology teacher at Olympic High School who has been teaching in the Central Kitsap School District for 10 years.

This school year, out of 945 sophomore students, 340 students are not taking a biology class, said Franklyn MacKenzie, the district’s director of secondary education. Of the students not taking biology, 256 are enrolled in a different science class such as chemistry or the principles of technology. The remaining 84 students are not taking science as sophomores, said MacKenzie.

Administrators met with the high school science teachers a few weeks ago to discuss how to go about preparing all students for the Biology EOC. MacKenzie said that supporting non-biology students who are enrolled in another science class with supplemental materials or an online resource are on the table.

The same resources would be available for 10th graders not taking a science class, but how to encourage them to study material they are not in a class for may be tricky.

“That will be tough. It’s getting to those students that could be some of the problem,” MacKenzie said.

About 36 percent of sophomores are not taking biology in the Central Kitsap School District with about 8 percent not taking any science course at all.

In the Bremerton School District at Bremerton High School, there are also about 8 percent of sophomores not taking science or may be repeating the 9th grade science course, said principal John Polm. However, biology is a requirement in Bremerton, therefore all students will take the course at some point, he said. If students are in 9th grade taking biology, they will take the Biology EOC at the end of 9th grade and not have to take it as sophomores, Polm added.

In comparison with the 64 percent of sophomores in the Central Kitsap School District who are taking biology, including honors, 87.5 percent of Bremerton sophomores are taking biology, including honors. The remaining 4.5 percent of sophomores are taking a chemistry course.

Polm said the school intends to develop a review packet for the sophomores who are taking chemistry.

How to prepare all sophomores for the Biology EOC is not a local problem, it’s an issue for schools across the state.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction does not have any formal recommendations on what school districts should do, said Christopher Hanczrik, the office’s director of assessment operations. Last school year, statewide 60 percent of sophomores took a biology course.

“There’s nothing we can do to change it. It’s a federal mandate. We’re in a position to carry out those requirements and provide the exam for the state,” Hanczrik said.

At last week’s Central Kitsap School Board meeting there was a discussion of the Biology EOC and the recurring question is what will the students not taking biology — especially the ones not taking any science — do to succeed.

“They’re not picking this up on their own,” said Eric Greene, a school board member. “I’m having trouble piecing this all together.”

MacKenzie said the first step would be to identify the students who are not enrolled in any science class as a sophomore and have a counselor provide resources and support. Making a biology class a requirement for all sophomores will not happen next school year, he said adding that if that were done, it would narrow the students’ path rather than let them choose what courses they want to take.

Fowler said that students in 9th grade and their parents should be better educated about the expectations as sophomores before they enroll for science. He added that a comprehensive end-of-course science exam would be better than a solely biology-focused one.

Because the state does not have the money to finance more than one science end-of-course exam, Hanczrik said there could be a possibility to have two other science exams — physical science and integrated science — around 2017. If the Legislature were to approve of that in the future, sophomores would take one of the three end-of-course science exams, he said.

But for now, the school districts must work with what they have.

“The EOC will hold more feet to the fire,” said Fowler.


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