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Skorkowsky is right: Graduation must have meaning

Recently, Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and the Board of Trustees announced an end to the practice of allowing high school students with an acceptable attendance record, but who failed to meet all other graduation standards, the chance to walk on graduation day with their peers. Instead of receiving a diploma, these students received a Certificate of Attendance during the graduation ceremony, a document with absolutely zero significance to that student’s future.

The change affects about 1,000 students who would have otherwise participated in ceremonies. Those students failed to accrue the class credits needed to graduate and/or did not pass the High School Proficiency Exam.

The students and families most vocal about this change fall into the latter category of failing the proficiency exam. On the surface, their claim merits sympathy: Why should a single exam determine if a student graduates, especially if that same student has passed all of the requisite classes? After all, the exam in question will have been completely removed by 2017, so why not allow a student to graduate when the exam won’t be consequential toward future graduation requirements?

The problem with that argument is that the current testing standard is not being removed, but replaced. Last year, Nevada’s legislators changed the state’s graduation requirements, establishing new end-of-course exams while eliminating the provision that allowed nongraduates to participate in the graduation ceremony. While the Legislature ceased granting attendance certificates, it did not forbid school districts from recognizing nongraduating students at their respective ceremonies, leaving that decision in each district’s hands. As such, Mr. Skorkowsky made the right decision of not recognizing such students.

The proficiency exam has been in place for 35 years, meaning students affected by this year’s change are being held to the same standard as millions of other students before them; the only difference is that they will no longer receive the benefit and honor of walking at graduation. While students affected by the change complain the district has ruined what would have been a special day for both them and their families, I would strongly question that logic. What would they have been celebrating? A meaningless gesture permitted solely to make the recipient feel better? And what of the students who did graduate, meeting all the requirements that were asked of them? Recognizing nongraduates in the same manner as graduates diminishes the accomplishments of the latter. At best, such recognition provides a false sense of accomplishment and at worst reinforces a cultural point of view in Nevada that accepts educational mediocrity, complacency and failure.

We don’t want these students to fail. While students and their families are disappointed, that is something we must accept if we want to hold our education system to a higher standard. This should be a teachable moment not only for these students, but for our community as well; let us understand that failure in education is not permanent and that success should not be taken for granted. These students have access to proficiency boot camps in order to prepare for a retake of the exam, and we look forward to celebrating their success in August at the summer graduation ceremony. They will then walk across the stage and accept a diploma in a ceremony with real meaning, and the success they’ll share with loved ones will be that much more gratifying.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Skorkowsky is receiving criticism for revoking an option that should not have been available in the first place, and which he had no hand in creating. If Nevada wants to move forward and out of the educational morass, graduation from high school must be regarded as an earned privilege, not a right. Mr. Skorkowsky and the trustees should be commended for holding high school graduation to a higher standard.

Jacob Silverstein is communications director for Nevada Succeeds.

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