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Student Transitions

Preparing Students for the Next Step: Secondary to Postsecondary Student Transitions

The State Board of Education focused on secondary to postsecondary student transitions during their March, May, and July 2017 Board meetings and community forums. To summarize the information the Board received during those six months from students, parents, administrators, and both government and nonprofit representatives, staff have created a report on student transitions. The full report includes a variety of helpful resources for individuals involved in preparing students for transitions, as well as links to additional background information (which were part of the Board meeting materials).

Staff also produced two videos as part of the full report. The first (see directly below) is a compilation of Board member reflections on what they learned from community forums as well as quotes from students present at the forums. At the end of this page, there is the recording of the four student panel (two high school and two community college students) the Board heard as part of their Walla Walla meeting.

Executive Summary

Infographic on Community Forums

The purpose of a high school diploma, according to state statute, is “to declare that a student is ready for success in postsecondary education, gainful employment, and citizenship, and equipped with the skills to be a lifelong learner.” (RCW 28A.230.090). Tens of thousands of young people in Washington exit the K-12 system every year and go on to postsecondary education and careers. However, the secondary to postsecondary transition is a difficult transition for many of our students and an overwhelming transition for some. Are there statewide policies that could erase some of the seams for all students? Are there practices that the Board could promote that would help more students over the hurdles?

To answer these questions, from March through July 2017, the State Board of Education conducted an extended look at student transitions, particularly the transition from high school to postsecondary education and careers. During this examination of transitions, particular effort was made to hear from people from historically underserved populations. The Board also intentionally engaged students so the Board could hear their perspectives. There were four topics explored during three consecutive meetings of the Board, and during three public forums where members met and listened to people from communities in different regions of the state. The topics of the meetings and the forums dealt with different aspects of the broad subject of student secondary to postsecondary transitions: 1) Planning, 2) Supports, 3) Assessments, and 4) Multi-Cultural Perspectives on Career Readiness. The forums and meetings were held in Everett in March, Walla Walla in May, and Spokane in July. Educators from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, the Washington Student Achievement Council, The Council of Presidents, Educational Service Districts, school districts, community colleges, and universities, as well as students and representatives of non-profit organizations, helped the Board plan this exploration and lent their expertise to this endeavor.

Additional Student Transition Resources

This report, Preparing Students for the Next Step: Secondary to Postsecondary Student Transitions, summarizes the Board’s work over this three-meeting arc, and is organized into three sections: 1) Where Are We Now?, 2) What Have We Learned?, and 3) Where Do We Go From Here?


Where Are We Now?


A central part of state policy that addresses planning for the secondary to postsecondary student transition is the High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP). The HSBP has been a graduation requirement since the Class of 2009 (WAC 180-51-061). Until recently, districts had complete responsibility for determining how the plan looked and functioned in their districts. As a result, HSBPs have varied greatly around the state. Recent legislation, ESHB 2224, provides greater clarity and definition for the HSBP. 

Some statewide resources for the HSBP are available for all districts at no or low cost, including Career Guidance Washington, and an HSBP tool available through WSIPC, a consortium of districts that provides information technology services. 

July Community Forum

Supports for Postsecondary Transitions

At the May Board meeting, members heard an update on the Integrated Student Supports Workgroup, which will make recommendations on the development of an Integrated Student Supports Protocol. The purpose of the protocol, which is based on recommendations of the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee, is to support a school-based approach to promoting success of all students through coordination and integration of district and non-district providers of acadmic and non-academic supports for students and families. 

The Board heard about a number of successful programs that support students through secondary to postsecondary transitions. Mentioned, among others, were AVID, Gear Up, MESA, the College Success Foundation, and the TRIO program, as well as unique local efforts including district and community college collaborations. The Board also heard about trauma-informed instruction at school visits. 

Assessments and Secondary to Postsecondary Transitions

The high school assessment system has been in a period of change since the state adopted new learning standards: the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. The Smarter Balanced Assessments, aligned to the learning standards in math and English Language Arts (ELA), have been implemented since 2014-2015. A new science test will be implemented for the first time in 2017-2018. Attaining a graduation score set by the State Board of Education is required for graduation on the math and English Language Arts exams. Students who do not meet the graduation standard on the assessments may retake the test, or demonstrate meeting the standard through approved assessment alternatives.

SBE May School Visit at Lincoln High

ESHB 2224 modified the high school assessment system, by providing more options for students to graduate and more flexibility in assessment alternatives. The legislation also moved the grade that most students take the ELA and math tests from eleventh grade to tenth grade, to allow more time for students to meet standard and become ready for their next steps after high school.

Washington State has taken a leadership role in efforts to make the Smarter Balanced assessments useful and relevant to a student’s high school experience, through agreements by Washington’s institutions of higher education to use Smarter Balanced assessment results for college placement and through the collaboration between higher education and OSPI on the development of Bridge to College courses. Bridge to College courses are designed for students who scored below a career- and college-ready level to get there by the time they graduate.

What Have We Learned?

Participants at the community forums, Multi-Cultural Perspectives of Career Readiness, shared their experiences, observations, and opinions with the Board. Recommendations from forum participants included (among others):

Student panel at July Community Forum
  • Counselors and educators checking into how students are doing in life outside of high school
  • Increasing representation of people of color in the teaching field
  • Introducing postsecondary options to students earlier, in middle school
  • Professional development for educators for understanding implicit bias, cultural competency, and trauma-informed instruction

At the forums and at the Board meetings, members repeatedly heard about the importance of one-on-one student/adult interactions, and about the importance of mentoring. Analysis of the use of Career Guidance Washington suggests that good guidance and planning closes opportunity gaps. Educators reported to the Board that schools more effectively support students when administrators, counselors, and teachers have aligned their efforts to help students with transitions.

At the July Board meeting, members heard from Tony Alpert, the Executive Director of the Smarter Balanced Consortium who assured members that the Consortium will work with the state on Washington’s state assessment needs. The consortium and OSPI’s assessment office will be evaluating what changes, if any, need to be made to adapt the high school tests to 10th graders. The Board will need to stay abreast of any such changes as it pertains to the Board’s responsibility to set a career- and college-ready achievement level on the Smarter Balanced assessments for tenth graders.

Student Panel at May SBE Meeting

The agreements by Washington’s institutions of higher education to use the Smarter Balanced assessments for college course placement is an innovative start to helping make the tests more relevant, and perhaps in time, streamline the number of assessments that high school students take. More work, however, needs to be done for students and institutions to be able to easily use the tests. According to the representatives from higher education that the Board heard from in July, very few students have accessed the opportunity to use their Smarter Balanced results in this way.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Some topics for consideration by the Board for next steps arose out of this examination on student transitions. Areas for further work may include:

May SBE Community Forum
  • Support counselors and programs that help inform and guide students on postsecondary options
  • Supporting professional development for teachers to provide career and college transition information to students
  • Helping small or remote districts to provide counseling services and career resources to students.
  • Exploring and supporting what could be done to increase the impact of counselors and amplify available resources. Investigating adult mentors outside of school, student peers, state websites that are more usable and integrated into the HSBP, and counselors providing guidance information and professional development to other educators.
  • Advocating for all schools to incorporate the 2016 Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks (SELB) Workgroup report (i.e. guiding principles, standards and benchmarks, implementation strategies) into their curriculum.
  • Advocating for the prototypical school funding model to include family engagement coordinators, counselors, and/or psychologists.

Video of Student Panel at May 2017 State Board Meeting in Walla Walla