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Originally published Monday, April 8, 2013 at 9:43 PM

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State’s new math test may keep many seniors from graduating

With graduation approaching, many high-school students have fewer and fewer chances to meet the state’s new graduation requirement in math. This is the first year that seniors must pass a state math exam, or one of a few alternatives, to earn a diploma.

Seattle Times education reporter

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They’ve rented caps and gowns, purchased graduation announcements, made plans for college or career training. In the back of their minds, they’ve tried to quiet the nagging fear that math could bring their happy June plans to an abrupt halt.

Yet now their math nightmares are coming true: As of today, they won’t graduate because they have yet to prove they have the math skills to do so.

For years, students have had to pass state tests in reading and writing to earn their high-school diplomas, part of a decades-long push to ensure that a Washington high-school diploma has meaning. This year, for the first time, they have to pass a math exam, too, or one of a few alternatives.

With graduation approaching, many have yet to do so.

The state has not yet tallied exactly how many students are in jeopardy. A few weeks ago, about 8,000 students statewide had passed the state’s reading and writing exams, but not math.

Since then, many learned that they passed in the most recent round of state math tests in January, or earned a high-enough score on a collection of math work they submitted to the state. Such portfolios are one of the alternative ways to meet the math requirement.

But for others — perhaps several thousand — the news was not good.

In the Seattle school district, for example, roughly 90 students are in that category. Some broke down in their counselors’ offices or with their parents. A number got the word on Friday, just a day after they received their graduation announcements.

On Monday, four sat together in Garfield High’s counseling office and put brave faces on their dwindling prospects, saying they haven’t given up yet.

Rubi Ruiz Cortes still wants to be the first in her family to graduate from high school.

Anung Luangrath wants to make sure he’s not the first to fail to graduate.

Elizebeth Marois wants to prove the doubters in her family wrong — that she can make it. She is taking geometry for the third time this year.

All three, plus Zahra Osman, failed the state algebra test in January, which they chose to take even though they had studied geometry more recently.

“We figured it would be a little easier than geometry,” Osman said.

“Which was not the case,” added Marois.

State reading and writing exams became graduation requirements in 2008, but lawmakers hesitated when it came to math because half the state’s sophomores then were failing the state math test on their first try.

In the past few years, students who failed the math exam could still graduate as long as they kept taking — and passing — math classes.

Not so this year, though some are still trying to get lawmakers to agree to another delay.

Many of Seattle’s high- school principals have asked Superintendent José Banda to ask Randy Dorn, the state’s top education official, for a waiver for students for whom math is the only obstacle to graduation. Banda and his top staff are considering that request, a school-district spokeswoman said.

Some of those principals are particularly concerned that the vast majority of students who are falling short in math are students of color.

Dorn believes it is time for math to count, a spokesman said.

The success rate has gone up, especially as students knew they had to pass to graduate. At Franklin High, for example, Principal Jennifer Wiley said it’s important to remember that 95 percent of her seniors have already met the math requirement.

Seniors who have yet to pass still have some options. Those who have yet to submit a collection of work can still do so, although they have just a few weeks for a process that usually takes months. Those who already submitted collections and came close to passing can resubmit them for second consideration.

Students can also qualify by hitting a specific score on the SAT or ACT college-admissions tests. They also can take the state tests again in June, but they won’t get the scores back soon enough to be able to take part in graduation ceremonies.

As always, the problem for some students is a lack of effort. But principals say others are falling short despite working hard.

Luangrath, for example, is determined to go to college. He has earned good grades in many of his math classes and has completed Algebra II. He recently dropped out of his one after-school club to have more time to work on math. Since Friday, when he learned he was eligible to submit a collection of work, he’s already done two of the six to eight required tasks.

His three classmates plan to submit a work collection, too, and all four signed up to take the next SAT test, even though it’s the day after Garfield’s prom.

They don’t want to think about what will happen if nothing works.

“I’m going to be positive,” said Marois, who dreams of becoming a physical therapist. “I can do it. I’m a soldier. We’re all soldiers.”

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @LShawST

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