Punitive graduation requirements implemented under former Gov. Susanna Martinez can still affect school districts around the state, despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s bold executive order suspending the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test and lofty promises of reform.
Lingering questions about the future of public education has landed the 2019 Española Valley High School graduating class in a pickle, given that roughly 74 of the 190 student class, 38.9 percent, are at risk of not receiving their Diploma of Excellence.
The Diploma of Excellence is a Martinez-era addition to graduation requirements meant to stem the tide of state dropout rates, Española Valley High School 11th and 12th grade counselors Stephanie Garduño and Landon Elliot-Knaggs said.
“Currently, to graduate a student needs to both demonstrate competency and earn 24 credits in various subject groups,” Elliot-Knaggs said. “If they do not meet the demonstrations of competency, they receive a certificate of completion, which is basically a meaningless placeholder.”
To demonstrate competency, according to the Department’s 2022 graduation manual, students must get a minimum score of 750 on the PARCC and pass their End of Course exams (EOC’s).
Competency is measured in five different subject groups: math, science, reading, writing and social studies. Seventy-four of the students in the class of 2019 did not meet those requirements.
Without excellence attached to the diploma, students can’t enlist for the armed forces, get into colleges or receive financial aid, Elliot-Knaggs said.
“Students will be referred to GED (General Education Degree) programs,” he said. “They need that certificate of excellence because the other is not equivalent to a high school diploma.”
Garduño brought up concerns about some students making the grade in fall semester 2018, Elliot-Knaggs said, but at the time, there wasn’t a strategy in place to help get students past the finish line and be in line with ever-growing graduation requirements.
“This cohort was hit with more stringent graduation requirements than in the past,” Garduno said. “That is why we are seeing a lot of these issues as compared to what we would usually see.”
As concerns mounted, the two went straight to work and began triage.
“This fall, everyone that did not pass it (PARCC) the first time around were able to retake it,” he said. “Then we set up a last chance EOC retake session before winter break began. We offered tutoring and notified everyone on the list of students risking failure.”
These efforts were to no avail, but they had begun the process of developing a Plan B for students risking failure.
While attempts were made to get students through to graduation through the usual channels, which would have been easier for them in the long run, Garduño said, the duo asked High School department heads to develop proposals on how students could demonstrate competency in their trouble areas through a project or an extended paper, or an alternative demonstration of competency (ADC).
“The PED (the Department) manual for the 2018-2019 cohort (graduating class) allows schools to implement ADCs,” Elliot-Knaggs said.
“It would have been a lot easier for the students to have taken PARCC and the EOC seriously, in many ways, the projects will be more challenging in terms of demonstrating competency,” Garduño said.
Students will have nine weeks, upon project approval, to complete their respective ADC with the aid of a teacher and possibly outside mentors, District Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said, then they will have to present their work in time for it to be properly assessed.
Alternative social studies projects would require an extended report and a verbal presentation to the Española School Board, while science would require a lab experiment and a scientific report based on the experiment and outside research, Elliot-Knaggs said.
The Board unanimously approved Garduno and Elliot-Knagg’s plan Jan. 16 during a regular meeting.
The great irony is that with Lujan Grisham’s promises to completely reform the education system, these graduation requirements might not even exist next school year, Gutierrez said.
“We didn’t get these current requirements until Sept. 20 (2018) when we were well into the school year,” she said.
District officials may return in the spring needing to change the graduation requirements again, depending on what Department officials want, she said.
“Until then, we are going to do the best that we can to keep up with what is still required of us and what our students need to succeed,” she said.
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