High School Seniors Left Behind

Around this time of the school year, high school administrators are scrambling to work on the master schedule for next year. They’re in overdrive making preparations for graduation. Final plans need to be executed to assure that the senior awards assemblies are coordinated to run smoothly. Certificates of accomplishments have to be created and printed up.

When I was a high school assistant principal, it was the busiest time of a school year. Teachers and guidance counselors were streaming into my office to discuss student grade issues or credit factors which would determine whether a student qualified to graduate or not. And in so many cases, dozens did not.

That’s the sad part. Heartbroken parents with their sons or daughters would receive the news: Their child would not be graduating with the rest of his or her class.

I wish that I could say that this was but a few students, but that’s not the case. Over my tenure as an administrator, I saw these numbers steadily increase with every school year. As with the student drop-out numbers, the number of students who would not receive a diploma increased.

The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPERC), supported and funded by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, published a report called Diploma Counts. When I first read it, I was quick to defend its findings as inaccurate or incomplete. I had to…I was part of the very system from which their data came.

The report indicated that an anticipated 1.2 million students in the United States would not be graduating in 2008. That’s 6,829 students a day! The controversial report also found that from the 9th grade up until the time of graduation, substantial numbers of students had dropped out or simply not made it.

It will be interesting to compare these numbers to the 2009 graduation rate data. My guess, however, is that it will still be dismal.

Why am I so discouraged? Because I saw it first-hand. I was part of the system that preached teaching to the test, and be damned if the student didn’t get it. He/she would just not graduate. The security of my job was also based on these results.

In other words, I had become a part of the push to get student standardized test scores up. I encouraged teachers to prep their students to the test. I admonished students who didn’t take the test seriously.

Eventually, I recognized what I had become – a test monger. And it sickened me. It’s part of why I left a promising career in education altogether.

Today, I write about it. I’m interviewed about it, and I make presentations on it. We are missing the heart in the way we educate our children today.

Why don’t the education officials of this country listen to the teachers and administrators in the trenches? Can they not recognize that what’s going on with our children in schools today is wrong?

Natasha M. McKnight

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