Educators across California are grappling with what to do with nearly 100,000 seniors who could be denied diplomas next spring after failing the state's first-ever high school exit exam.Um, it should have no currency since the kids didn't graduate.
At issue is whether students should be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies, and whether to offer an alternative certificate in place of a high school diploma — and what currency such a certificate would have in the job market.
Let's leave aside the merit and/or structure of the exit exam for a moment. If it is required to graduate and a kid can't pass it, the kid doesn't actually graduate, right?
Then why let him walk?
Now, full disclosure, last May, I walked with what I consider to be my class during the spring commencement exercises because I certainly didn’t want to hassle with coming back in May 2006 to walk with people I don't know and UCs don't have a problem letting students go through the motions without having accomplished anything except, I suppose, successfully picking up their caps and gowns.
Does that sound harsh? My older sister walked a quarter before she was actually done at UC Santa Cruz (having experienced first-hand the ease - note implied sarcasm - with which UC students get the classes they need, I'm not surprised most UC kids take 4+ years to graduate). I did it. Lots of kids do it.
My college, however, was notoriously hard-assed about graduation. Seniors complete their finals no later than a week before the ceremony and all grades must be submitted and tabulated so that participants know 100% that they have actually graduated. We got our real diplomas when we walked across the stage. No waiting or worrying about the Postal Service losing our $100k+ pieces of paper. If your eyes were bleeding out of your head, you were one unit from being finished, and just couldn't get that last 2 page paper in on time, tough luck, sporto.
Perhaps I was just conditioned to a tradition, but I found my faux-graduation last May to be a pretty hollow, meaningless endeavor. (I guarantee you that somewhere, my mom is getting upset reading this). The sole upside was the chance to have my family come visit and to spend time with my departing friends and meet their families. That was worth it, of course. But since I had accomplished nothing at all save completing my fifth semester of law school - why was I allowed to walk? When I really do finish in a few (blessedly/frighteningly) short weeks, the only ceremony I'll have is the one where I pop open a bottle of Asti in my living room and pass out from exhaustion before I've downed the first mug. I don't regret for a second the decisions I made that have me finishing now, but I wish the cap and gown part were this December.
I think it is inexcusable that so many California students are failing what is - in all likelihood - not a difficult test. But we do them no favors by letting them out in the world unqualified for the jobs they'll need to have. In fact, high school education is pretty sorry even for the passers. But don't pretty up the disappointment with a tinsel-wrapped consolation certificate. Keep them at school and hope like hell it will only take a year to get them out.
Letting students who aren't really graduation walk with ones who are won't make them feel better about failing the exit exam.
I'd say, no diploma, no walk. And it'd be nice if UCs had the same standard.