Accountability Model Controversy

Feb 03, 2012
Bill Nolte

Graduation projects have been like a pinball bouncing all over the place.  First, we were not doing graduation projects.  Then, graduation projects were required by the state School Board and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  Then legislation (G.S. 115C-81b) was passed prohibiting graduation projects.  The legislation says, "The State Board shall not require any student to prepare a high school graduation project as a condition of graduation from high school; local boards of education may, however, require their students to complete a high school graduation project."  Now, the State Board and DPI have placed graduation projects in the accountability model for all high schools.  Here are my three greatest concerns. 

Number One: There is a lack of definitive evidence proving that graduation projects improve student performance (assessments or grades).  There is little, if any, evidence indicating that graduation projects improve the graduation rate.  There is no significant, measured, value-added benefit for making graduation projects a component of the accountability model.   

Number Two:  Putting graduation projects in the state accountability model literally forces local schools to do something that the law says is the school’s choice.  There is not much of a choice here.  The State Board and DPI will give high schools a poor mark (literally a “red” mark) on the accountability model unless the schools do something that the law says the state cannot require.  When you force people to do something contrary to the law or to avoid a bad grade (“red” mark in accountability), that is coercion, at best.  There are other descriptors for this that I’m avoiding because I believe in the value of good public schools.  Others will not be as reasonable in their analysis and response.

Number Three:  This is the worst possible time to add something like this.  Resources are extremely limited.  Additional budget cuts are pending.  New Common Core and Essential Standards are being implemented in every subject and at every grade level.  It is bad enough that there are forces rallying to take down public schools.  We certainly don’t need to help them by placing additional, unnecessary and questionable burdens on our schools.

Lastly, let’s not say the graduation project is in the accountability model as a “bonus.”  That is wrong too, for all the reasons stated above, and a few more.  No school should ever be given a “red” mark (or any mark) in accountability because it chooses to follow the law.  No school should ever be pressured to do something that is illegal for a state agency or board to do independently.  The high school accountability model has plenty of appropriate measures without graduation projects.  Schools can choose to do all the graduation projects they want.  However, there is no place for graduation projects in state accountability model. 



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