Education Corner 6 - Questions at Graduation: An Almost True Story

09 NOV 2015

Quite a few years ago, an 8th grade graduation was held at a middle-sized Micronesian elementary school with two 8th grade classrooms and 60 graduating students. As is always the case at these graduations, the students were running here and there; boys in white shirts and black pants and girls in new white dresses. A few of the girls had been to the beauty shop in town but all of them had their beautiful hair all pretty and nicely done. The boys looked clean and handsome but, as is usually the case, a few shirt tails were hanging out. And while the boys were handsome, many did not look comfortable— all dressed up.
Families filled the school parking lot with their cars and it seemed everyone had mwarmwars, both store bought and handmade. The flowers were for the graduates and for parents and, of course, anyone who enjoyed the dressing up for a graduation. With 60 graduates, at least 120 chairs were reserved for mothers and fathers, or grandmothers and grandfathers, or aunties and uncles, or whoever the primary care-givers might be. The rest of the school was filled with brothers and sisters and the many cousins who happened to come that day. The mood was festive, but it was hot and people did mention that they hoped the speeches would not be too long. A big man already perspiring noted that the graduation the year before was almost two-and-a-half hours long. A woman beside him said she hoped it was shorter this year, and the few that overheard the comments all nodded in agreement.
Then some 7th grade boys and 7th grade girls acting as ushers and usherettes began to pass out the graduation programs. All the graduates were listed on these nicely printed papers along with a few honored guests and speakers. There was a Roman Catholic Deacon giving the opening prayer and a Protestant Pastor giving a Benediction. The school after all had both Catholic and Protestant families and both branches of the Christian religion were always welcome and the clergy always made themselves available. The main focus of the written program was naturally the graduates. As usual, they were listed alphabetically with a Susaly Amberdink at the top and Wheezly Zitterly at the end. Everyone searched the program for family and then friends for recognizable names. There was Limper Ramon listed as the Valedictorian and Pepperset Saboda listed as giving some welcoming remarks. All four of these eight graders Susaly, Wheezly, Limper. And Pepperset had asterisks placed next to their names. Anyone reading the program could see that many graduates had the "*" placed next to their names. And if one were to count, 40 out of the 60 students had the "*" next to their names. Even the 5th graders knew what to do when they saw the "*". It meant that they should look at the bottom of the page or the end of the program. There you would find the "*" and the explanation or meaning of the "*". In this particular program the "*" said, "Principal's Honor Roll 3.0 Grade Point Average (B) or above".
As the crowd grew restless for the graduates to begin their marching and the ceremony to begin, some parents began to remark about the size of the honor roll list.
"Look how many students made the honor roll this year," said Mrs. Ramon the proud mother of the Valedictorian.
"Indeed," said Mr. Saboda. "The teachers must be doing a good job this year. I remember only a few years ago, only 15 or so students made the honor roll."
"Well, perhaps," said Wheezly Zitterly's mother. "I am so very happy that Wheezly is on the honor roll, but I am equally disappointed that he did not pass the National Standards Test so he can go to high school. I don't know what to do with Wheezly. He is 14 years old and he cannot go to high school and is too young to get a paying job. Even clerks at the local stores must have a high school diploma. I guess he can feed the pigs and help on the land."
"What do you say Mrs. Zitterly?" whispered Mr. Amberdink. "Did you say that your boy did not pass the NST but is on the B-honor-roll? I was sitting here so embarrassed seeing my daughter Susaly's name on the honor roll and knowing she did not pass the NST. She was so happy. 'Daddy! Mommy' she exclaimed. 'I made the Principal's honor roll. Aren't you proud of me?' And both her mother and I were happy. Therefore I did not say anything to her because she was so happy about her B average and all."
"Exactly right, Mr. Amberdink," said Mrs. Zitterly. "I did not want to make my poor Wheezly feel bad. He struggles in school sometimes and when he yelled 'honor-roll, honor-roll' I did not want him to feel bad. I did not want to bring up the obvious question."
"I know it is too late now but we must ask. We must!" continued Mr. Amberdink. "how can our children be on the Principal's B honor roll and not pass the High School entrance test—the NST?"
This story was made for EC so we could continue to discuss with the public this whole idea of evidence and assessing our students in all the standards and benchmarks. Sometimes it is with grades and sometimes with standardized test scores.
Is our story true? No! Could the story be true? Absolutely! Can students bring home good grades and not do well on the National Standards Tests and other standardized tests for evidence of learning? Sure!
In our next EC we will discuss all the ways the story could be true and where the responsibility lies for improving. Remember all of these student scores should and will be used for improvement. This is the major purpose of assessment and this EC column.