MOST of Oklahoma's high school seniors were in fifth grade when the Achieving Classroom Excellence law passed in 2005, establishing testing and graduation requirements. In the past seven years, these students have grown in knowledge, maturity and stature. Something that hasn't changed with time is opposition to ACE, whose standards are set to take effect this year.
Abandoning the requirements now would be unfair to the many high school seniors who have worked so hard to pass the end-of-instruction tests. As of November, about 6,000 seniors were in peril of not graduating, based on self-reported data from the school districts to the state Department of Education. Last month, that number was down to 2,100.
At this point, says Oklahoma City Schools Superintendent Karl Springer, the state can't say it was just kidding about these new regulations. If that were to happen, “The kids will never believe us,” Springer told The Oklahoman's editorial board last week.
Springer's perspective is refreshing. While some educators decry the higher standards, the man at the helm of a large district facing serious challenges isn't ready to give up.
Do we have confidence in our students and teachers to achieve success, or not? Watering down or abolishing the graduation requirements sends the wrong message. A diploma must represent more than occupying a desk for 12 years.
The graduation ceremony is called “commencement” because it's supposed to be the beginning of the road, not the end. Students going on to college must be adequately prepared; too many college freshmen in Oklahoma require remedial coursework. Students pursuing other training programs or entering the workforce also need a foundation of skills.
The graduation requirements are not unreasonable. Students must pass four out of seven end-of-instruction tests. They may take the tests multiple times. They also may substitute scores from other tests, such as the ACT, or complete a project demonstrating mastery of the concepts. Those with extenuating circumstances have a route for seeking a waiver of requirements.
Only one student with extenuating circumstances has appealed to the state Board of Education, and that request was granted. Many others, upon becoming aware of the alternate paths, find that they don't need to plead for extenuating circumstances. Sixty-five have undertaken end-of-course projects, with 35 having successfully completed them.
A bill creating an appeals process for students who fail to pass the exams passed in a Senate committee last week and now goes to the Senate floor. House Bill 2970 would allow a student denied a diploma 30 days to file an appeal, and the Board of Education would then have 45 days to take action.
Springer says these issues should've been settled at the beginning of the school year. But here we are with the choice to keep our word or back down. School officials don't hesitate to complain about changing rules that affect them; changing the rules for students now would be disingenuous.
We believe in the class of 2012. If the students take these standards seriously and put forth their best effort, they can succeed and walk across that stage on graduation day. Year after year, opponents of ACE have been unwilling to surrender. Only these students can change their minds.