Graduation Standards Go Public: A Different Way

How can a school ensure that its graduates are meeting community standards? Seniors at Maine’s Yarmouth High School help teachers design a year-long seminar course that explores a series of interdisciplinary topics (like “race, culture, and identity”) from the perspectives of science and humanism. Working alone and in groups, they read and discuss texts and pursue their individual research.

At a culminating “roundtable exhibition,” each student formally presents work from the course, as well as a reflective cover letter, to a panel of teachers, students, and community members. While the panelists are evaluating their presentations and cover letters, students receive two new articles to read. To end the afternoon, in a final public test of the students’ critical reading and thinking, audience members engage them in an impromptu discussion of the articles they have just read. Among the suggested questions they ask students:

  • What are the author’s main points?
  • What evidence does the author use to support these main points? ?? Can you characterize the author’s viewpoint?
  • Why should we care about the issues the author discusses? ?? What is your viewpoint on this issue? What evidence supports it?
  • What connections do you see between the issues here and other areas?
  • What might happen if the author’s recommendations were implemented? If they are not?
  • Do you have recommendations? What might their consequences be?

Panelists play an important role in assessing the cover letter (for content, organization, style, and mechanics), the presentation (for content, organization, and delivery), and the impromptu discussion (for substance and delivery). The audience’s role, say teachers Alan Hall and Craig Lepine, is to move the student’s learning forward and bring out the student’s ability to think clearly and make connections.

“What do you see in this work and this discussion?” they ask the panel. “How does it fit with what you think is high-quality graduation-level work?” If the group agrees that the presentation needs more work to qualify, facilitators have the option of asking the student to present again at a later roundtable.