Allow me to put this in perspective. At the high school where I teach, approximately 200 of 450 seniors in the class of 2018 were using the additional pathways to earn their diploma. For those of you out of the loop, this means that they were unable to earn 18 points from the state’s 7 assessments, or particular point values in content areas. Statistically speaking, the tests that have given students the most trouble, both at my school and statewide, are Algebra and Geometry.
Unable to earn the scores deemed appropriate & indicative of college & career readiness by the state (with no data driven analysis to prove the readiness they claim), these seniors worked to complete their coursework successfully while simultaneously studying in remediation (test prep) classes in order to retake problematic assessments. They were also required to satisfy 2 components, or additional pathways, to earn their diploma. At my school, overworked administrators and counselors met individually, frequently with students and tracked their progress on 3 possible pathways selected by the student. This way, if a student found themselves unable to meet 93% attendance, often difficult among economically disadvantaged students for health care and transportation issues, those students could focus on attaining the necessary GPA, or score on the WorkKeys assessment, or hours in employment or volunteer service, or another of the additional pathways.
Setting aside the fact that the inordinate amount of time and effort expended could have been better used to actually counsel students regarding their mental health, career choices, college options, scholarship info, etcetera, the system created seemed to work. It is gloriously pointless, does nothing to encourage appropriate life choices for students, is a fantastic waste of resources, but at least students were able to graduate.
I bring all of this up now despite this being my first full week of summer break, a time in which I should be sitting quietly in my backyard, staring blankly into the distance as my mind makes sense of the past school year, a bemused smile on my face, a cat circling my ankles. I bring this up because I keep waking up with uncertainty, the uncertainty of a man who knows that in a few short months the class of 2019 will be stepping into the school in which I teach with no alternative pathways to graduation outside of a meaningless assessment system.
If the numbers are comparable to last year, and every measure we’ve seen indicates that they will be, then somewhere around 50% of seniors (give or take) in every urban district will be starting the year with some measure of anxiety regarding whether or not they will receive a diploma. Half of those kids might have a shot, despite already having retaken their Algebra assessment 2 or 3 times to no avail, so will show up and bust their asses even though the odds are steep.
At the other end are those kids who’ve got maybe 9-11 of their necessary 18 points having already taken all of the tests, who know damn well that the system has been stacked against them to such a degree that there is no way in hell that they will improve that many test scores and graduate, despite all of the remediation, hard work, and best intentions of teachers, counselors, and administrators.
“Why bother showing up?” is likely the question that will enter many of their minds, and I’m not sure that I have a good answer.
A bill exists right now that would extend the pathways for the classes of 2019 & 2020 until a more meaningful Graduation Requirement can be crafted. House Bill 630, introduced by Representative Galonski, awaits the appropriate hearings which have yet to be scheduled by House Education Committee Chair Andrew Brenner. Rep Brenner told the media that there would be action taken on graduation when the state board recommended it in January. He called me at my home and told me the same.
And yet, no action. Not on graduation anyway. Mr. Brenner’s bill that would require the State School Board to develop a cursive handwriting curriculum passed the House this week. While the class of 2019 twists in the wind, our education policy priority is nonsense.