I had a student, let’s call him Jose, who had 100% attendance all the way through school. He attended almost all of his classes, he participated in class discussions, he did everything he could to understand and learn what we were teaching. Jose worked very hard, at least during class, and always made sure to turn in his homework. He was a nice kid. He was very polite and was well respected by his peers. He graduated, a feat only matched by about 35% of the freshmen with whom he started high school.
The problem was, Jose was illiterate and we all knew it. He struggled to complete even the most basic of sentences in his writing and couldn’t read the side of a cereal box. However Jose managed to meet the requirements for graduation because of a few simple things he had learned.
- Always do your homework, even if you have no idea how to complete it. It’s okay, teachers are grading for effort anyway.
- Never cheat. It makes teachers mad at you and people are mad at you are less likely to pass you.
- Come to class and ask questions and try your best all the time. Your participation mark will be excellent!
- You can take your Regent’s exams (NY state exams) multiple times.
- A 65% is the official passing percentage (at least in NY) but no one fails with a 60%.
- 20% for participation and 20% for homework is 40% leaving the final 20% to come from assessments in class, or 20/60 (which is close to 33%).
- You can get 33% on tests if you fill in everything with whatever you know and guess for the multiple choice, with a little bit of luck.
I don’t think Jose ever got more than 65% for anything he turned in, or for any of his classes. He met the minimum requirements which, honestly in the school I was in, were not that stringent. He failed some of his classes, but because of our credit system, he could easily retake classes, even multiple times, and still graduate in four years.
We failed Jose though because he left high school completely unprepared for the real world. We had certainly not given him any skills he could use because our school focused on "getting students to pass the Regent’s exams". He didn’t learn enough academic skills to continue his studies, although he did attempt University, at least for a semester and yes there were universities which accepted him, thanks to open enrollment.
Jose came to school and wanted to learn. He really respected teachers and did everything he knew how to do to be successful. He was a model student in every way, except he struggled with the written word. There is something seriously wrong with a system which lets a student like Jose graduate unprepared for life.
I don’t have any answers for this problem but I do know that Jose would have been far more successful if we had not accepted the absolute minimum from him. We needed to set higher standards and then provide him with additional support to meet those higher standards. We needed to invest more in Jose’s future rather than just passing him onto the next person.