Bob Houghtaling has an idea for a new reality show: 'The Graduation Game.'

Credit: EG Patch
Credit: EG Patch

In a few short weeks the results of the NECAPs will be made official. This year’s results will mean more than in the past due to the impact they will have on students graduating high school.

Already spin-doctors are preparing their interpretations of the scores. Some will laud the results, asserting that the tests reflect their district’s excellence. Others will claim that testing is unfair and that certain populations bring their results down. Unfortunately everyone knew that 2014 was the year when the NECAPs would be factored into graduation. With the exception of the Providence Student Union, a handful of parents from East Greenwich and Barrington, a few activists, some former RIDE employees, most folks waited for the wreck.

While this is going on, the Department of Education has been preparing for more standardized tests and the Common Core. It is much of the same – only now the stakes are higher. Boy, would this make a great game show.

Reality TV has given us many unique shows in recent years. We have seen folks stranded on islands. We have seen folks ridiculed on the way to become "Idols." Add in some "dirty jobs," the Kardashians, fishermen chasing "deadly catches" and just about anything goes. At this time I would like to pitch a new reality show. Maybe someone from Hollywood will read this and give me a call.

The Graduation Game

The Rhode Island Department of Education has provided us with all the ingredients for a hit show. There is fun, excitement, risk and of course an opportunity to screw folks over (or at least put them at risk) enmeshed in the present graduation requirements. Just imagine a young Bob Barker barking out the following lines.

“Good evening and welcome to ‘The Graduation Game,’ brought to you by the makers of AttentionX. Two out of three doctors claim your child will be riveted to his/her seat by taking AttentionX. I’m Bob Barker and I’ll be your host this evening. Let’s begin by introducing our contestants.”

Barker would then welcome three students who are in danger of failing to meet the state's graduation requirements (due to their performance on a standardized test). Each student would then be provided graduation options behind Door #1, Door #2 and Door #3.

Graduation option #1 would be – take the test over and add additional course work in English or Math. Door #2 would offer an alternate test like the Accuplacer or ASVAB. Door #3’s option would offer a GED (the new, more expensive and aligned with standards one, of course).

In order to get to choose one of the doors, each contestant would have to provide proof of completing four years of high school, as well as being proficient on a senior project. Then, based on language skills, special needs and socio-economics, contestants would spin the big "Race To The Top Wheel." The contestant who is lucky enough to have the wheel stop at the highest number gets to proceed. Those who failed the wheel portion of the game were placed on "double secret probation." 

Now the fun really begins. Let us have Mr. Barker explain: “Well Mary (it could be any other name) you’ve made it this far. Now it is time to choose. You can risk a chance at one of the doors, head directly to college (except for CCRI) or take it upon yourself to enter into the waiver process. You have a brief amount of time to choose.”

If the networks would take a shot at this I am sure it would be a hit. Imagine the spin-off possibilities. Can’t you picture a game show host saying “Welcome to the Poverty Game," or “It is time once again for Incarceration?” A favorite of mine might be the Blame Game where folks would pin the fault for failing schools on whoever is available. I am pretty sure that the Gates Foundation and Wal-Mart would advertise on the host station.

In reality, the present education situation did not have to occur. Some of the problem was political. Some of the problem was power, money and stubbornness. Perhaps the biggest problem of all was the bystanders who sat back and watched the show. That is the reality! It appears as though the graduation requirements for young learners change quickly. If this were not so potentially damaging it might be entertaining. Unfortunately there is nothing entertaining about watching thousands of young people struggle.

The putative assumption by some on high is that the public needs convincing of the necessity for standardized tests. RIDE has attempted to expiate its sins by creating an even more confusing waiver process. Perhaps seeking to eliminate the use of standardized tests, in the present fashion, would make the most sense (common sense). Holding on to the test makes little sense at all. But, then again isn’t the definition of dysfunction "doing something over and over and expecting different results"?

What do you think would happen to a district if they refused to use testing as a graduation requirement? What do you think might happen if that district had a long history of successful testing over the years, but began to realize that a more balanced approach was called for? Do you think RIDE would punish that district? The headlines in the paper would be awesome: "Top Ranked School Punished For Refusing to Join Testing Ranks." I believe that other districts would see the folly of the present graduation requirements and follow suit. The new movement might be called "Rest the Test."

Groupthink is a psychological dynamic that extolls conformity and obedience over individual analysis and opinion. History is replete with situations where Groupthink won out over common sense. It is a shame that something so vital as how we educate kids is impacted in this fashion. Don’t think so? How about threats of school closings? How about holding back student’s diplomas? How about blaming test scores on teachers? How about negatively impacting English language learners, those with special needs and kids from poorer neighborhoods? Sadly, critical thinking has been set aside for conformity. Sadder still, this is being marketed as progress and accountability. Stay tuned next week for the next episode of The Graduation Game.




EG January 23, 2014 at 09:43 AM
Twenty-three states implemented graduation exams. None of them has reversed it back. It is time to look at this issue differently. We should ask why these students are failing. It is time to fix the broken system. You should hold Department of Education and school districts accountable when they are trying to hold others accountable.
Gene Dumas January 23, 2014 at 11:02 AM
A broken system in which municipalities (taxpayers) provide the majority of their budget. According to the Town of EG, for FY ending June 30, 2013 that figure is 35.8M. That doesn't include the interest on LT debt.
EG January 23, 2014 at 01:13 PM
Having school district ran by the town is one of the major contributing factor for this falling system... All the top performing education systems in the world are run by the Federal or State government.
Rose January 23, 2014 at 01:42 PM
We have ALWAYS had struggling students who were better suited to vocational programs where they did well and learned skills. Now if we are going to make them all pass algebra and write as well as those in college prep programs, we are dooming them ( as well as many special education students) to failure. They will not get diplomas and will be unemployable. This is a disastrous change in graduation requirements.
EG January 23, 2014 at 01:50 PM
RI high school graduation rate is 77%. I won't believe 23% of the students are not smart enough to learn Algebra when many elementary school students and middle school students in other countries take more challenging Algebra courses...


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