BETWEEN CLASSES: Culminating project didn’t go over well with the guinea pigs

Thanks to Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act, the Washington State Legislature has been compelled to come up with more stringent standards for graduating seniors.

  • Saturday, May 17, 2008 12:00am
  • Opinion

Thanks to Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act, the Washington State Legislature has been compelled to come up with more stringent standards for graduating seniors.

The graduating class of 2008 was the lucky guinea pig. Among the new requirements are a “Culminating Project,” a “High School and Beyond Plan” and a passing grade on all sections except science (at least for now) of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

There are also a multitude of other convoluted standards, of which we have never been informed and know nothing about.

These new standards may appear worthwhile, even helpful, but in reality they are wasteful and frustrating for both students and teachers.

The WASL for instance, has been determined by many experts to be ineffectual and flawed. Mandatory passing grades often causes standards to be lowered to pass more students. Standardized testing encourages teachers to “teach to the test” in some districts, and eliminates the cause of educating students towards their individual proclivities.

The High School and Beyond Plan (or “10-Year Plan”) is also unreasonable. The majority of high schoolers have no idea who they are, let alone the exact path they will take after graduating. These kinds of decisions are made in college, and rightfully so.

As far as the culminating project goes, that type of research paper and public presentation is redundant for the majority of our peers. Students who are on track to graduate from high school have already completed many lengthy research papers and know how to carry out a project without the help of a mentor or a time log.

The project is designed to “connect high school to the real world,” but high school doesn’t need to be connected to the real world. No one should have to write an extensive paper about building a chicken coop or fixing a motorcross bike.

One of our classmates chose to teach first- and second-graders Spanish, but was discouraged from writing her 10-page “research” paper on the aptitude for language learning in that age group. She was told to focus her research solely on how she could apply her project to a career. Every project became an assumed projection of our futures. How many students do you think really plan to follow through with the subject of their project as a career?

Already intensely stressed with college choices, college and scholarship applications, and a normal course load, seniors do not need another stressor, on which rests our entire graduation.

The idea of a culminating project isn’t necessarily a bad one. Our problems stem from the way our school executed this plan.

This year alone, the guidelines for our culminating projects changed somewhere between

10 and 20 times, due to our high school’s inexperience and disorganization.

The project should be required for those few students who have never had to write a college-style research paper or present a project to a committee. It should allow those students to focus on subjects that genuinely interest them, with no illusions of career-path grandeur.

Why not make the project entirely service-oriented? Let students work in groups, or individually, to design a community service project that has a clear benefit for both the students and South Whidbey.

Around the state, schools have been forced to take time out of already crammed schedules to make way for the senior project. Each of these high schools has executed the culminating project differently. Some mandated rigorous standards and requirements for the project. Others had low standards and requirements, seeing the project as a hindrance.

Our school attempted to place high standards, but was foiled by its own bureaucracy, and ended up with a project both labor-intensive and pointless, having little if any positive impact on its victims.

The culminating project should be used to help high schoolers find their passions; in the future it will hopefully do this.

Barbara Haupt and Philip Hofius can be reached at

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