PUTNAM COUNTY — For current high school seniors looking forward to receiving their diploma this upcoming spring, the path to graduation has narrowed from previous years. As a result, approximately 15 percent of students enrolled in one of the nine traditional schools in the county are currently at risk of not graduating, unless the state legislature takes action and eases requirements.

To come by that 15 percent figure, The Sentinel reached out to each of the county’s nine Superintendent’s and requested the total number of students enrolled in the 12th grade, and the number of those who had not yet completed one of the following three requirements:

• Earn at least 18 of 35 points on state high school exams, meeting minimum levels in each of math, English and science/social studies;

• Earn remediation-free scores on a college entrance test (i.e. 22 each on ACT English and math);

• Earn qualifying industry credentials plus a passing score on the WorkKeys exam.

To better understand the issue, The Sentinel spoke with Dr. Jan Osborn, Superintendent of the Putnam County Educational Service Center, along with Gary Herman, the ESC’s Curriculum Coordinator. During the conversation, Herman quickly identified an aspect of these three pathways that makes them inherently deficient for all students.

“All three graduation pathways still are based on a standardized test,” Herman notes. “That’s the frustrating point. You have to get your 18 points based on standard end of course tests. The vocational pathways still involves passing two parts of the WorkKeys, which is a standardized national test. Or, you have score remediation scores on the ACT test, which again, is a standardized national test.”

“It doesn’t matter which of the three pathways you go, it’s all based on standardized tests. There are a lot of students in our society that could be very good workers, and contribute to society, who just aren’t good standardized test takers. The frustrating point of that is that there is that inflexibility to prove your competence or worthwhileness to contribute society unless you can pass a standardized test.”

“Hopefully, moving forward, there will be more ways to demonstrate your competency and how you can be a contributor to society. That’s where, hopefully, we’ll move forward.”

As was then pointed out by Dr. Osborn, when schools prepare their students, be it a high school, vocational school, or an institution of higher learning, they’re not preparing them to graduate. They’re preparing them for life after graduation.

Success in life is typically performance based. Outside of civil service exams, few adults are evaluated based on test scores. Instead, the real world looks at ability and past performance. By only advancing a subset of students who are good test-takers, we risk leaving behind those students who can demonstrate subject mastery in ways not so easily captured by a multi-choice exam.

For students on a technical track, there is also a somewhat hidden issue with the three current pathways, as emphasized by Pam Hamlin, Director of the Millstream Career Center. “Career tech students do have an alternative pathway,” Hamlin wrote in an email. “IF (emphasis hers) there is an industry credential attached to their program of study. Not all career centers offer industry credentials in all the pathways due to a variety of factors.”

“The saying is, ‘Ready, fire, aim,’ ” says Dr. Osborn, “What do we tell freshman they have to do to graduate? We’ve changed, several times, the requirements to get them prepared for graduation. To the point that now, people are saying, ‘We don’t know what the requirements will be, this is what we think.’ ”

To clarify the risk this instability poses, consider the scoring of at least 18 points on state exams. Students don’t know exactly where they stand until the end of their junior year, following the completion of the Government course and its subsequent exam. Should a student find themselves at the end of their junior year having not achieved the 18 point threshold, there remains only one school year left for a course correction. Too late for a technical track for most, and with only the re-taking of state exams and the ACT left to ensure graduation under current conditions.

“The goal is, among many educators,” Dr. Osborn continues, “is this idea of, ‘Give us some stability. Give us an opportunity to prepare students, to know what the expectations are.”

“What is needed to [create] that independent, successful person? Doing standardized tests is not the only pathway…We want high expectations, and pathways for every child.”