News: Doubling the Arts at Washington High Schools

Washington State’s Board of Education has passed new graduation requirements for high school students, which include two credits in the arts. The policy, slated to begin with the class of 2016, makes Washington the first state in the nation to require more than one arts credit.


The former system, which hadn’t been restructured since the mid-’80s, required one arts credit, with a caveat in place until 2008 allowing students to substitute any other additional credit if preferred. The new graduation requirements mandate that all students take one course in the visual or performing arts, and the second may be substituted on occasion. Also, school districts have the ability to award competency-based credits to students who practice the arts extracurricularly. Since arts classes are considered an academic credit, they will all be factored into the students’ final GPA.


Dr. Kathe Taylor, policy director for the Washington State Board of Education, says the new policy “signifies a transformation from viewing requirements as the bare minimum in order to graduate to what students need in order to be career- and college-ready.”


Jane Bonbright, executive director of NDEO, supports these new policies but believes the education system won’t truly be making progress until the gap is bridged between K–12 and higher ed. “It’s wonderful to have two arts credits when you graduate from high school, but if the post-secondary institutions don’t have entrance requirements for the arts, the system breaks down,” she says.


Currently, only two of Washington State’s six public colleges require any arts credits for acceptance, and Taylor says that this issue is on the Board of Education’s radar. “We will just have to keep talking to the colleges,” she says. “When transforming graduation requirements, the board tried to better align high school requirements with college admissions requirements. But alignment was only one of our guiding principles; the other was breadth. That’s the reason that we’re going for two arts credits.”


Taylor and Bonbright agree that all students, no matter their background or future goals, must have access to the arts in high school. “The arts are made for all children, not just the talented and the gifted,” says Bonbright. “They teach creativity, innovation and collaboration. And perhaps most significantly, they develop an appreciative, understanding audience for tomorrow.”

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