The Gravity Of Graduation

In a stack of papers called Grading.

  • Jun
  • 02
  • 2006

The excitement of the end of the school year, as infectious as any disease, prances around the room all day dressed in its summer finest. With the dawning of June, students see it and they often dance along, singing songs of the fair time off from school ahead. I see it, too, as vacations and airline tickets build up, though I keep my dancing shoes in the closet during the workday. But while the beginning of summer shimmers softly on the horizon for most, it also looms heavy in the distance for some.

The F List

The senior F list comes due every year at this time. This is to give the counselors the fun opportunity of calling home. Filled with tidings of great joy, phone calls home are a pleasure for any of us that get the chance to do so, school counselors particularly. The counselor’s union fights each year for language in their contract that says they get to place those calls, the lucky devils! I imagine the conversations they must be having.

“Hello? Mrs. Petulance? Yes. Hi. This is your son’s high school calling a– What’s that? No, he didn’t burn anything down. Don’t be silly! We just want to– I’m sorry? Oh, no. It’s nothing like that. The police have not been contacted. [trills of laughter] Oh, that’s funny! It’s just that his grades are not the best, which you should know full well if you’ve reviewed his past 2 progress reports, and it doesn’t look like he has a snowball’s chance in hell of walking the stage. So we’ll see him back here either in the summer or in the fall, depending on how many units he still needs. Ok? Well, you have a nice evening, too! And thanks for sending that care package. Tell your husband I said ‘Hi” and that I’ll be there for the summer soiree. See you in a few weeks!”

A pleasant exchange about a certain graduation ceremony to take place without little Johnny’s name on the roster really gives the school a chance to connect with parents. And the parents, always supportive, fully informed, and willing to take responsibility for raising their child, are charming folks to talk to.

Wait, wait. I mean the opposite of all that. Sorry. I had it backwards.

My List

This year, I put 10 seniors on that list. All 10 of those seniors have sob stories. A high percentage of those students will pull things around and give me enough work to earn a D to graduate. After bringing in some missing work, 3 names dropped off the list today. I’m betting 3 more names will disappear from the list by June 5, as more needed work comes trickling in. 1 senior stopped attending class several months ago and another made a choice early in the year to completely ignore English class. 1 student who was told to see me at lunch for a grade-saving discussion never showed up, essentially hanging himself. Yet another student simply does not have the skills to pass English 4 and only started attending class faithfully about 10 weeks ago. Those 4 seniors have no chance of passing English this year and no chance of graduating.

Make Up Work

“Make up work” is just a euphemism for “late work.” As a general practice, I do not accept late work.

After teaching for 8 years, this is the first year that I am comfortable accepting late work only from some students, specifically seniors at the end of the year. The fact is that students being offered the chance to turn in missing assignments are being given a chance to earn a D. They aren’t turning in work and pulling a C out of the deal. As soon as a student’s grade reaches a D, I stop accepting late work.

Raw Deal

But something that sticks with me is this: if a junior and a senior, both with the same percentages and points in a class, are on the borderline of a passing grade, I’m more likely to look at what I can do to let that senior pass and graduate. The junior gets pushed back into junior-level English for his senior year. Anecdotal evidence, from brief discussions with other teachers over the years, suggests that I’m not the only teacher like this.

I’m willing to cut the senior a break because of impending graduation ceremonies, but the junior is forced to repeat the course. It would be a disservice to the English 4 teacher to pass on a student who is incapable of performing well.

I can’t help but wonder if we all cut deals with seniors that juniors would never be extended. Is it fair that, simply because they have graduation hanging directly over their (and teachers’) heads, seniors get chances to earn passing grades unavailable to other students? And is it fair to colleges that students enter their ranks who are not prepared for the next level of academic development but didn’t perform terribly enough to warrant a fifth year of high school?

Part of it is simply a matter of time. The seniors finish classes a week before everyone else, so I have time to go over the gradebook and see what work needs to be completed in order to get that passing grade. As I see seniors throughout the day, I have a chance to talk with them about what they need to do to pass. We don’t have that kind of time to work on grades for other classes. The day of the final is the last day we see those students.

What’s your policy? If seniors know from the beginning the percentage needed to pass a class, would you bump a senior up even a point or two in order to record a passing grade? Would you do that same favor for a freshman? Is this another inequity inherent in the system? Is it an admission that senior year is the end of high school and a decision must be made about whether or not high school can offer that student anything more? Should a senior fail high school by a matter of a few points? If not, shouldn’t that same courtesy be afforded to underclassmen? Does graduation make it more imperative that seniors pass, but no graduation means that we can doom a sophomore to fail and repeat a class the next year? If your students were all seniors, on the cusp of leaving your educational institution, would all the same students have an F?


1. Debbie says:

[6/4/2006 - 8:37 am]

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, too, as my freshmen has been asking for work they can do to bring their grade up. I am acutely aware that, as a freshmen teacher, my grade sends a message: this child is capable of doing the work in English 1. Not that he does it, but that he is capable. One would argue that, with freshmen, it’s the same message. Is this freshmen mature enough to take class seriously AND do the work to expectation levels? Freshmen are on wildly different levels of maturity, though, and it’s sometimes tough to make that choice. Who knows where they will be in 2-3 years? Will they even still be in school? CCOC? On the AP track?

It’s a bit different with seniors. You won’t see them again, so you’re making a value judgment about their ability to adapt in the real world, an entirely different judgment. IMHO, if you have a senior who’s a few points behind, probably due to late work, but he is capable of meeting the standards and doing the work when implored, then yeah… pass him.

2. Matt Hall says:

[4/14/2008 - 7:41 pm]

I know it’s easy for me to talk, since I have NEVER had a student beg me to pass him in Japanese 3 so that he can graduate. Still, I didn’t cut Phuong-kun any slack when he needed his grade changed so that his UCLA acceptance wouldn’t be revoked. One standard for everyone-be it frosh or senior. Meet the standard, or accept the consequences. What’s wrong with that concept? In this case, the standard is “pass a certain number of classes or you don’t graduate on time.” The penalty is not that severe, when you really think about it. You’re not telling the student they can NEVER have a diploma. You’re merely telling them they will not have it that particular June day. And let’s be clear, there has to be some serious tomfoolerly going on to miss out on so many credits that you are actually behind come senior year. Either way, it is not your fault. Students and families need to take responsibility for their choices. A tricycle doesn’t work with one flat wheel, one regular wheel, and one wheel missing altogether. See if you can figure out which wheel is which in my eyes.