Lately, I am encountering a recurring issue with the structures for success at our school; namely, too many seniors are not passing my course. According to my school’s graduation requirements, students who do not successfully complete my English course cannot graduate. This means that nearly twenty seniors of the eighty-six seniors I teach will not graduate. It seems outrageous that nearly a quarter of my seniors–all of which are students of color–are not passing my course, but the individual circumstances make things plain.
Many of the students who are not passing my course have had some form of extenuating circumstances this year that has made them miss a significant number of school days. Students with chronic absences have a difficult time coming back to school to make up all the work they missed. However, as an educator, I must find some way to be equitable in my grading practices.
My attempt at providing equity for students has led to forgiving many missing assignments for students who have chronic absences. This has resulted in a significant reduction of failing grades in my course (currently, four of eighty-six seniors will not pass my course), but it also makes me feel like a fraud.
Equity demands that we meet students where they are, and respond to their needs by providing all the supports necessary to help students achieve success. This is what I did by removing missing assignments from my gradebook, but the fact is that these students did not fulfill the basic requirements for my course haunts me. Now, a lot of the students who suffered from chronic absences will cross the graduating stage alongside students who successfully completed all of my course requirements. It is difficult to admit that sixteen seniors will walk the stage without having completed nearly half of my course. I worry for them, for the potentially rough time they will have in college, when a lot of the preparatory work we did with seniors to prepare them for college is lost on them. These students are not ready to go to college, yet we will see them head that way.
This issue has been a recurring one at our school, and I am sure that this is the case at multiple high schools all around the United States. We are watching seniors graduate high school, walk across a stage, but they have not demonstrated mastery of academic skills. I continue to believe in the need for equity in schools, especially with students of color, but I can’t help to stop and wonder if educators are doing more of a disservice by allowing students who have not met basic course requirements go off to college. I hope that, as a society, we can soon come to a common understanding in regards to academic success, but for the moment being, we must understand that equity for high school seniors should not border fraudulence.
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