At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, the Directors unanimously voted to support a recommendation from the Culminating Project Committee that the District drop the senior project graduation requirement. The Board will formally take action on the issue in July but passed a motion supporting the Committee’s recommendation in order to let students, parents and teachers know about the upcoming changes.
The state Legislature removed the senior/culminating project as a graduation requirement during its last legislative session, though it allowed local school boards to keep the requirement if they so desired.
At the urging of the Committee, the District sent out a community survey on the issue and received almost 4,000 responses with more than 1,300 written responses. The survey had three possible responses: eliminating the senior project graduation requirement, keeping the senior project or modifying the requirement.
A clear majority, 75 percent, supported the elimination of the senior project. Only 14 percent of those who returned the survey wanted to keep the senior project and 10 percent suggested modifying the requirement.
The results were consistent for both students and parents. Eighty percent of students and 79 percent of parents supported elimination, while 67 percent of staff supported elimination.
Support for elimination also was fairly consistent among the individual high schools: Lynnwood (83 percent), Edmonds-Woodway (81 percent), Mountlake Terrace (77 percent), Scriber Lake (70 percent) and Meadowdale (68 percent).
“A common theme among many of the written comments was a sense of stress felt by students, families and some staff,” said Assistant Superintendent Patrick Murphy.
A student, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, said that friends of his reported being burned out from the work related to their senior projects.
Another major consideration of the committee’s is that students will be faced with increasing graduation requirements mandated by the state. Next year’s senior class will be required to pass a biology end of course exam. The Smarter Balanced Assessment also will count as a graduation requirement.
“The expectations for our students are going up,” Murphy said. “We’re given this opportunity to maybe take something off the plate. The committee kept talking about that.”
Murphy also noted that when the culminating project was adopted by the state several years ago, no funding was provided by the state.
“It’s rare to remove such a requirement,” Murphy said.
Both the Committee and School Board Directors saw many positive aspects to the senior project.
“Basically I know it’s very valuable. I know kids hate doing it,” Director Gary Noble said. “Once it’s done, they are very proud of it and it becomes a very significant part of their senior accomplishments.”
But given the changing state graduation requirements, Noble agreed with the committee’s recommendation.
Director Ann McMurry noted that her children benefited greatly from their senior projects. McMurry’s children went into professions directly related to their senior projects.
“The thing I would hate to lose is the challenge of doing something big,” McMurray said. “So many of the big things they do have some sort of benefit to the community. … It’s something that elevates their efforts into a larger sphere.”
The committee also recommended that the District explore ways to add elements of the senior project into classes. Areas that the committee saw value in included: time management skills, presentation skills, organization skills, reflection, setting goals and how to reach them, defining success and community/civic mindedness.
A particular concern of the Committee and of Director April Nowak is the impact on students’ volunteer activities. The committee had concerns there might be a drop-off with the removal of the requirement. The committee recommended the District look at ways to incentivize students to volunteer in the community.
Nowak saw first-hand the value of students volunteering to help others and she said she would hate to lose that piece of the senior project.
School Board President Diana White praised the initiative of the District in sending out the survey and the community for responding.
“To make a decision with data behind you, it is a great feeling,” White said.
Murphy also updated the Board on the June Snapshot of State Testing Graduation Status for Class of 2013 and Class of 2014.
The latest numbers indicate that 93.5 percent of students of the Class of 2014 have completed their State Testing Graduation Requirements as contrasted with 93.0 percent of the Class of 2013.
“We’re chipping away at it little by little,” Murphy said of the numbers.
The School Board approved the following:
High School World Language Adoption. The last formal World Language Adoption was more than 20 years ago. The result was that there were several different sets of materials being used in the middle and high schools, leading to inconsistency in the district. Moving to a common set of materials will allow the District to build a common and consistent program for all students in all buildings.
High School Special Education Math Adoption: The District recommended the adoption of one common set of instructional materials for high school learning support and intensive learning support programming and one set of materials for secondary life skills. Materials recommended were: High School learning support and intensive learning support classes-Moving with Math; Secondary life skills classes-Ablenet Equals.
Policy and Procedure for Automated External Defibrillators (AED). The Board authorized the placement of AEDs in schools following state recommendations. Selected District staff and high school students will be trained following the guidelines established by the Washington State Department of Health.
By David Pan/Lynnwood Today editor