The Graduation Game

by ROBERT ARCHER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n June, 1988, I marched across a stage to shake a hand and receive a small piece of paper. The moment was both terribly brief and terribly momentous. As a young man just a few days away from my 18th birthday, I was participating in an American rite of passage; I was graduating from high school.

As I returned to my seat, I took a moment to participate in a rite for my particular school; I glanced quickly inside the hard covers to see if the principal had signed my diploma. If he had, college; if he had not, summer school. No signature meant I had not met the requirements to graduate. Honestly, there was no real reason for me to check that diploma; I was an excellent student and even knew beforehand that I was graduating cum laude. The glance was simply one of those instinctual reactions; I wanted to make absolutely, positively, no-nonsense sure that I had met my requirements to graduate.

And what exactly were those requirements way back when? Credits. Pure and simple, I had to have passed the correct number of total classes and the correct number of classes within each discipline to satisfy the state's mandates. If the state-certified teachers of all of those classes asserted that I had met all the criteria of the given curricula by giving me passing grades, then I was granted that much-sought-after piece of paper, thereby allowing me to pursue my higher education goals.

Thankfully, I did on both counts. Now I'm ecstatic that I'm as old as I am, for the situation today has become much more complicated for current high school seniors.

Fast-forward 20 years to next spring's graduating class in Spokane. It seems that the aforementioned process of the state-certified teachers' putting their professional stamps of approval on a student's transcript has become educationally pass & eacute;. This year, there will be six different criteria that a senior must satisfy to receive that desired diploma, and only one of those seven is attaining the correct number of credits (22) in the correct types of classes.

The other five are as follows: 1) passing the reading portion of the WASL; 2) passing the writing portion of the WASL; 3) passing three years of math (because Spokane Public Schools requires one more year of math than does the state of Washington); 4) completing the culminating project; and 5) completing the 5-Year Plan of the WOIS (Washington Occupational Interest Survey), which begins in 8th grade and is updated annually in the form of an electronic portfolio.

Overkill or a complete mistrust in the public educational system? Either way, do these criteria symbolize a more-is-better ideology?

This is where the graduation calculations become a bit tricky, so parents of seniors, pay attention: Not completing just one of these criteria satisfactorily means no diploma. In other words, your son/daughter would not graduate from a Washington high school.

Actually, I need to qualify that last statement, for there is one exception. If your student does not pass the math portion of the WASL, he/she must take and pass an extra math class during senior year. Even then, your child would receive a diploma but would not receive a certificate of academic achievement, thereby severely limiting the post-secondary educational opportunities.

Moreover, there is another option if the student does not pass any portion of the WASL. The parent may request a "collection of evidence," which amounts to 12 pieces of curricular work (some of which are on-demand assessments) to be gathered and assessed first by a willing teacher (voluntarily) and then by the state. These would have to be submitted to the state by mid-February, and if the state deemed these as "meeting standard," the student could receive both a diploma and a certificate of academic achievement.

Everybody got all that?

And if you reread it and finally understand it, have you caught the irony? Our state certifies individuals to teach specific subject areas -- aka "teachers" -- and then tells them that their professional assessments of students only add up to about 15 percent of the picture. May I suggest that if the state distrusts the validity of teachers' professional appraisals of students, then it should find more applicable criteria for certification of teachers rather than heaping more requirements on our already over-burdened seniors.

Otherwise, someone needs to start brainstorming about what we're going to do with all of those seniors who aren't granted diplomas even though they've passed all of their required classes.

Robert Archer teaches English at Shadle Park High School.