Graduation: A rite or a right?


According to my trusty buddies over at, a “rite” is a formal or ceremonial act or procedure that is customary for religious or other solemn use. A “right,” on the other hand is a just claim or title, be it legal, moral or otherwise.
I only bring that up because there seems to be some confusion about it.
A group of parents, students and counselors a

pproached the LISD Board of Trustees on Monday night asking them to consider changing a certain graduation requirement that will preclude a good number of seniors from walking the stage in May. And it seems to me that they had their vocabulary a bit confused. It seems they think of graduation as a “right” of passage, rather than a “rite” of passage.
In the mind of most high school students, I imagine graduation is somewhat similar to a party. It”s about sitting with your friends, plotting the last pranks of your high school career and celebrating with great excitement that the high school experience has come to an end. Graduating from high school means that you have entered the adult world, you should be treated like a grown-up, and get to put the days of other people telling you what to do all day, every day, behind you.
That was exactly what high school graduation meant to me. I”m sure my parents thought about the accomplishments, the scholarships and the future. I thought about getting to sleep in and pick my own schedule when I got to college. It only took about two days for my mother to work that fool notion out of my head.
Still, on that night, in that moment, I knew that I had done everything that had been asked of me, jumped through every hoop my teachers and counselors told me, and I had earned the right to walk across the stage and give Mr. Allen one of about 120 marbles he received that evening when I shook his hand and received my diploma.
(I still chuckle about that from time to time).
We might say that graduation is about the diploma, but really, I don”t think it is. I haven”t seen my high school diploma in years. I can barely imagine where it might be hiding, but I suspect it”s tucked safely away in storage at my parents” house. The commencement exercise itself is all about the party.
There is a state law that mandates that students who do not pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test cannot receive a diploma, regardless of whether they have passed all of their subjects and earned all of their credits. The State leaves it to individual districts to decide whether those students will be allowed to participate in commencement exercises.
In Lockhart ISD, the rule is that if you don”t pass the test, you can”t participate in graduation – you have to meet all of the state-mandated requirements to be called a “graduate” to receive your invitation to the party, so to speak.
According to the request made to the Board on Monday evening, it appears that there are a number (I”ve heard estimates from 20 up to 50) students that haven”t passed the test, and yet the counselors, some parents and some of their classmates seem to believe they should be allowed to walk anyway. No one is suggesting that they should receive diplomas (because legally, the district can”t issue them), but it has been suggested that they be able to participate in the rest of the pomp and circumstance involved in high school graduation.
With my belief about what high school graduation actually means to most teenagers, the fact that this request is out there concerns me.
First and foremost, I don”t think it makes much sense to go tinkering with the rules with 42 school days left until graduation. This rule is not new, and it”s not something that the students and parents weren”t aware of when senior year kicked off. Whether you agree with the rule or not, changing it at this stage of the game to placate a few folks sets a dangerous precedent.
What happens if the board decides to overturn the rule? Last year, I recall they overturned it for one student. This year, several are asking for the same deal. Next year, will a passel of seniors ask to be able to walk if they haven”t earned their credits, or passed their finals? Once the door is open, it will be hard to close.
If the board wants to reevaluate the rule, they should do it while reviewing the policy manual for the new school year — not while trying to wind down the old one.
The second problem is that there is a much larger number of students who have, in fact, passed their exit-level TAKS tests and earned the “right,” under the existing rules of the District, to participate in graduation. Allowing a group of students who have not completed the requirements undercuts the accomplishments of the students that have. Sure, it might not be great for the students who don”t get to walk, but is letting them walk really fair for the kids that did what the State requires to earn that privilege?
The third, and most troublesome thing about anyone requesting that the exit-level TAKS rule be changed is that it calls the entire curriculum of the high school into question.
As much emphasis as the State, the District and the administration place on the TAKS test, I can”t imagine how the students can”t get past it. And if the students can”t get past the test, what are they teaching them?
In the years I”ve watched the goings-on at LISD, one main point of focus has remained abundantly clear. It seems to be the sole goal of the district.
“Get the kids past the TAKS.”
At times, it almost appears that administration wants to get the kids past the test at the expense of all other types of education. Never mind art or music education. Get them past the test. Creative thinking and problem solving? It”s not on the test. Worried that your students don”t know where to look to find the answers? That”s okay. Just make sure they know the answers and can regurgitate them on the test.
The way I see it, the TAKS test has squelched every creative instinct that any teacher has ever had, because the teachers have their legs cut from under them. If they happen to have time to teach the kids how to think, that”s a bonus. But if they can”t teach them how to think, at least they can teach them how to get past the test.
But now, people are asking the board to change the rules because of the of students that haven”t gotten past the test.
So if the students are not learning the one, fundamental goal of the district, what is it exactly that they are learning?
I realize that my opinion on this issue is not going to be popular. In fact, it wouldn”t surprise me at all to find that quite a few students, parents, teachers and administrators assemble a mob to chase me around the Courthouse Square with buckets of tar and bags of feathers. I can deal with that. And I”m not entirely certain that I would blame them.
But the simple fact of the matter is that if the TAKS test is going to be the yardstick by which we measure the success of our students, it doesn”t make sense to snap that yardstick in half when our students aren”t making the grade. Our responsibility is to make sure that they do, not to pat them on the heads and reward them if they don”t. We may not like the rule. We may not agree with it. But it”s the rule that exists, and instead of trying to circumvent it, we should be busy making sure that we don”t have to.
It”s not up to me, though. If it was, I”d do away with the TAKS test altogether and build a curriculum that would teach students how to do more than spit answers back on a test.
It”s up to the board. And because it”s up to the board, it”s up to the community. Talk to your board members. Show up at the meetings. Write Letters to the Editor, if you prefer. Either way, let your board members know if you think graduation is a “rite” or a “right.”
(By LPR Staff)


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