School board shouldn’t let non-graduating students walk across the stage

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Appeared in the Epoch Times, March 21, 2024
School board shouldn’t let non-graduating students walk across the stage

Who should participate in a high school graduation ceremony? If you said, “students who have graduated,” then you live in the world of common sense. However, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) thinks traditional high school graduation ceremonies aren’t inclusive enough. Why? Because they exclude the students who didn’t complete all their high school credits.

Sadly, this isn’t a parody—it’s reality.

The OCDSB plans to replace high school graduation ceremonies with “commencement” ceremonies open to all students, including those who haven’t completed their high school credits and aren’t graduating. In other words, students who failed their courses will get to walk across the stage just like their peers who worked hard to earn their diplomas.

And not surprisingly, it’s all in the name of “equity.” On its website, the OCDSB explains that “commencement is equity-based and not marks-based.” The goal is to ensure that “students at all levels of achievement will cross the stage with their peers.”

This is absurd.

Imagine what would happen if other organizations adopted this approach and took it to its logical conclusion. For example, suppose everyone who enrolls in a driver education program got a driver’s licence whether they passed the test or not. After all, it wouldn’t be equitable to give licences only to students who learned how to drive. Think of the hurt feelings of the students with different levels of driving achievement.

Maybe faculties of engineering and medicine should follow suit. After all, it’s inequitable that only medical school students who complete their training and pass their exams get to work as doctors. For the same reason, we should stop the inequity of requiring professional engineers to successfully complete engineering degrees before designing bridges. What’s the worst that could happen?

However, the OCDSB proposed “commencement” policy doesn’t stop there. The board also wants to revamp student awards to ensure they’re “reflective of the OCDSB’s commitment to learning, equity, engagement, and innovation.” Say goodbye to trophies, medals and other academic prizes for high-achieving students. Instead, we can expect a bunch of meaningless participation ribbons.

It never ceases to amaze me how many senior education bureaucrats are drawn to dumb ideas like moths to a flame. It wasn’t that long ago that education bureaucrats were falling all over themselves to adopt new approaches to assessment, such as the nonsensical “no-zero” policy where students couldn’t get a mark of zero even when they chose not to hand in assignments.

Back in 2012, Edmonton physics teacher Lynden Dorval was fired by the Edmonton Public School Board for refusing to follow his school’s no-zeroes edict. While education consultants claimed there was plenty of research supporting the no-zero policy, the so-called research these policies were based on turned out to be little more than a house of cards.

Incidentally, Dorval appealed his firing and ultimately won his case at arbitration, which was later upheld by the Alberta Court of Appeal. The board had to pay Dorval two-years’ salary and top up his pension. Firing Dorval was a costly mistake—one that could easily have been avoided if administrators used a little common sense.

Unfortunately, the OCDSB is using the same flawed logic, arguing that preventing non-graduating students from participating in graduation ceremonies will demotivate students and make it less likely that they will succeed in the future.

But this argument overlooks the fact that students know full well when they haven’t completed the necessary credits. The OCDSB’s proposed policy will diminish the value of high school graduation for the students who deserve to receive their diplomas.

Just as top-ranked athletes wouldn’t be interested in an Olympic Games without medals, students and their parents will have little use for commencement ceremonies when every student is included, and graduation is not a prerequisite.

Parents can share their feedback about the OCDSB’s proposal on the board’s website—trustees will discuss the proposal at a committee meeting on April 4. The proposal is so bad it doesn’t even deserve a participation ribbon. It deserves no less than a failing grade.

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