To Graduate Or Not To Graduate

Brian on Stories From School discussed the difficulties of having students whose graduation may be determined by an individual teacher or a test score. He used a story about a young man named Jake, and Brian compassionately detailed the position both teacher and student find themselves in. He concluded with this: “Do we want the decision about whether or not a student graduates made by a computer-scored test, or by a teacher with knowledge and compassion about the student’s life?”

Through the course of a couple response posts, I stated the following:

This is always a tough dilemma.

Is it more beneficial to take the student’s individual situation into account, or do we have the same bar to reach for every student? If everyone gets a diploma, does that diminish its value?

I teach high school, and so many students are woefully unprepared when they arrive. More than anything else, I lay the most blame on a system that allows students to progress 9 years without accountability (on the student) and then suddenly changes the rules on the students.

However, parents play a role, and so do we. When we make exceptions for one student over another, does this make us part of the problem? It’s a tricky question to answer.

As I mowed the lawn today–and just finished as the rains began–I thought about this situation some more. While I would love to see multiple pathways for kids (one for the college bound, one for those going straight to work, the military, etc.), I come back to the way we measure our ELL Language Arts population. Once all is said and done, those students basically have to show four years of growth. They may start as Newcomer students who know no English and then progress to ELL I, II, and III classes. They pass these four levels, and they qualify for graduation in Language Arts.

Why not do the same for all students? If three years of Science are required, have the students complete that many levels of science successfully. Whatever the graduation credits state for each content area, that’s the number of levels a student must advance.

With students coming in at so many different levels, we either have to force all students to reach the same level for a diploma or have the students advance four years for a diploma. Right now, I vote for four years of growth, though I may change my mind tomorrow. 🙂

P.S. I wrote a post a couple years ago about differentiated diplomas. Check out the original post by clicking this line; maybe it relates to this discussion.

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