Last week, the Robstown Independent School District Board of Trustees heard impassioned pleas from several counselors and parents from the high school, requesting the board change a controversial policy.
That policy states that students who have received all the necessary credits to graduate but who have not passed the TAKS test will not be allowed to walk across the stage during Friday night's graduation ceremonies. The policy is in effect because under current state law, students who do not pass the TAKS test are not allowed to receive a high school diploma.
In Thursday's meeting, those in favor of changing the policy called it "embarrassing" to the more than 20 students at Robstown High School who have not passed the test. They also pointed to an informal survey of students from the Class of 2009 who voted overwhelmingly, 117 to 10, in favor of allowing these students to walk across the stage with them.
While I sympathize with the students who have taken the test three times since their junior year and have been unsuccessful at passing it, I believe the policy should remain as it is currently written.
Under the existing policy, these students will still be allowed to wear a cap and gown and participate in all graduation activities. They walk into the ceremony with their fellow students and they will leave with their fellow students. Although they are not allowed to walk across the stage, they do have the option of being presented separately as candidates for summer graduation.
Allowing the students to walk across the stage to receive what would be a blank document would be a meaningless gesture, and would cheapen the accomplishments of those students who have earned their diplomas. The existing policy treats the students who have not passed TAKS differently than those who have because the students have reached different levels of achievement, and deserve to be treated differently.
The strongest argument I have heard in favor of allowing students who have not passed TAKS to walk the stage is that TAKS is an unpopular test that will soon be thrown out by the Texas Legislature. Students who were unfortunate enough to be in school during the TAKS testing era should not have to suffer now, when 20 years from now no one will even remember TAKS existed, the argument goes.
While that argument makes sense at first glance, it does not hold up to scrutiny. I agree that TAKS will probably not be around even five years from now, but when it is gone something else will take its place. The era of standardized testing is here to stay, and students can expect to continue to be required to pass those tests to receive a diploma.
I am not enough of an alarmist to agree with those who say changing the policy will lead some parents to withdraw their students from the district, or those who believe the dropout rate and TAKS failure rate will increase. However, I do believe changing the policy would send a message about work, reward and individual accomplishment to these students that will not stand up to real-world experience.
As these students move past high school into the work force, they will find that although effort is admired, results are rewarded. The salesman who makes 25 more calls than his fellow workers but who never makes a sale will be praised for his effort, but let go for his results.
By all accounts, half of the students who did not pass TAKS in Robstown have given it their all. They have attended every tutoring opportunity and every TAKS workshop. They should be commended for their hard work and encouraged to keep trying. Hopefully, their hard work will pay off and they will receive their diploma in the summer.
But, as of Friday, they will not have done so and they should not be treated as if they have.
Let's keep the walk across the stage for the purpose it was intended- to hand a diploma to a student.
Christopher Maher is the Managing Editor for the Nueces County Record Star. Readers may contact him at 387-4511.