I wrote today about San Diego Unified mulling where to set the bar for graduating — or whether it would be better to have more bars, setting different standards for different types of diplomas.

Another graduation requirement that is undergoing scrutiny at San Diego Unified is the senior exhibition, a final project that differs from school to school. Some schools require community service as part of the project. The number of volunteer hours differs significantly from school to school, ranging from no minimum volunteer requirements at Madison High School to 75 hours at Mira Mesa High School. In response to a Public Records Act request, San Diego Unified said it does not keep data on how many students fail to graduate because of the exhibition.

“Why are we putting obstacles before a high school diploma?” asked Sally Smith, a parent who has lobbied to end volunteering requirements. “It’s a burden for poor parents who are struggling to pay for gas, and if a kid is struggling in math, she should do her real work — not spending time on something she isn’t really graded for.”

Sweetwater Union High School District schools scrapped a similar requirement after high schoolers started an online petition saying the project wasn’t worth the time, said spokeswoman Lillian Leopold. Similar complaints have been raised in San Diego Unified by Smith and by teenagers who call it “a big waste of time.” Seniors are sometimes asked to gather assignments from every year of high school, panicking students who have long since thrown their homework away.

“If we don’t do one little project, that decides if we get our diploma or not,” said Lindsey Mullins, a Mira Mesa High School graduate who now attends Grossmont Community College. “That is just stupid.”

Leopold was sorry to see the Sweetwater schools eliminate the exhibition.

“It was really unfortunate,” she said. “There were kids who were able to show things in their portfolio that maybe they couldn’t show us at school. One kid showed us his tin art.”

Chief High School Improvement Officer Nellie Meyer said the senior exhibition was being discussed at principals’ meetings to determine how to make its requirements more consistent from school to school. At present, no board policy outlines a single standard requirement for the project, she said.


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