Edmonds School Board votes to drop senior project requirement

Starting next fall, students in the Edmonds School District no longer will have to complete a senior project in order to graduate high school.

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

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5 Comments

  1. After four years of being a community member panelist for these senior presentations, I’ll be sad to see them go. The only bright spot in this article, if it actually comes to fruition, is the mention that the district is going to look into integrating the lessons from the project experience into the classroom. It was telling, however, that no such preparations were made prior to eliminating the current project requirement. Also, the biggest benefit of these projects, from what I could see in the student presentations, was what the students did OUTSIDE the classroom, standing on their own two feet. This aspect of education seems to be getting whittled down to a smaller and smaller part of what we expect of our children, and I believe it is detrimental in the long term.
    We need more open ended, self guided, exploratory “assignments”, to grow thinking, responsible, conscientious adults and community members. While the Senior Project didn’t solve world hunger, it was indeed a small step in the right direction. It will be missed.

  2. So relieved it is not a graduation requirement. I had 1 go through it and 2 more on their way. I won’t miss it. Elements of it were beneficial but did not justify the anxiety and added stress linked to the graduation. Especially for those students that are already challenged in school.

  3. Too bad students feel burnt out because they had to complete a project!! What will it be like in the real world and university? The children will benefit from the project requirement and I for one support it as necessary!

  4. Irwin, I don’t know the students who made the comment about feeling burnt out. And I do not know if you have ever been a community member panelist volunteer evaluating the projects. Based upon your comments I am guessing you did not do this volunteer work. I volunteered for about six years; maybe more. I had two children who completed senior projects. Here is an analogy that might put the projects in a clearer perspective: You have worked at your job for twelve years (analogy to K-11). In your thirteen year you are given a project to complete in nine months. It must incorporate everything you have accomplished in your first twelve years. At the end of the nine months you will present your project to people outside your workplace. These people have been given a checklist of what to look for in your project. They may or may not have any knowledge of your particular field. If they decide you did not do a satisfactory job on your project you will be fired. It doesn’t matter that you have met all the other requirements for your job the past twelve years. Your entire career rests in the hands of of these outsiders. You will be given an opportunity to re-work your project and present it again. However, you now realize that the deadline you have been given is only a couple weeks away. And, of course, every other aspect of your job still has to be completed on time. In fact, you have a week coming up that has other projects due (in school it is called finals week). So, to go back to your question about what will it be like in the real world; I never thought the format of the senior projects prepared them for the real world. It had some valuable aspects, as Todd Cloutier noted. These aspects can, and should be, incorporated into every class. In my opinion, the term “burn out” in terms of the senior project is really the stress of knowing that they might not graduate based upon the evaluation of a panel of outsiders. Thirteen years of work down the drain. I base this opinion on feedback from many students.

  5. I can see the problems with the requirements just before graduation. Perhaps they could have Junior projects. I hope the outside community connection and public speaking will not be lost. As for the “outsiders” judging. In my experience as a judge, I saw people’s interests and the students’ projects being matched. I hope the school leadership will see the positive aspects of the Senior projects and truly integrate them into the various classes.

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