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Raising participation standards only helps students

Maybe some common sense has begun infiltrating a place in Louisiana that often lacks it, school boards, where at least somebody recognizes higher standards do a better job of preparing children for society than does sports participation.

This past legislative session, state Rep. Rickey Hardy introduced a bill that would increase the standard for which students could participate in extracurricular activities from a 1.5 – that is, alternating C’s and D’s or average and below average – to a 2.0 grade point average. Under some pressure especially from prep athletic interests, the bill did not make it. Hardy has said unless the body that governs Louisiana high school athletics voluntarily imposes the standard before next session, he’ll introduce it again.

He should if needed, but this also doesn’t mean school districts can’t do this on their own such as is being talked about in the Monroe City district by a school board member, Vickie Krutzer. Unfortunately, there is much incentive against a single district doing this because then some interests in it will fear this will shrink the athlete pool and create a disadvantage in competitions with other districts’ schools.

Those against the higher standards usually push a fraudulent argument at best, that the lower standard helps to keep in school marginal scholars attracted by athletic competitions. They claim that otherwise these kids would be lost through dropping out. Further, they also argue that grading scales may be different across schools.

But there are several fallacies to these arguments. First, they make the same mistake as do the proponents of recently-enacted legislation to create a less-demanding curriculum track in the schools, that graduation with a diploma in hand is the end-all and be-all of education. While that might pad statistics and soothe consciences of educators and politicians who now can believe they’ve succeeded, in reality it makes a diploma only a worthless piece of paper and graduation meaningless. If your standards are so low that you really haven’t prepared students to be more productive in the world, it doesn’t matter how grandiose the piece of paper and ceremony are. And it seems that allowing graduation with a slew of D’s, without challenging the student to do better even if it means forfeiting extracurricular participation, creates only one difference between those kinds of students and those who drop out: one has a worthless piece of paper, and the other doesn’t.

However, another consideration also moots the argument of those against raising standards: all Louisiana students in order to graduate must pass the Graduate Exit Exam, meaning three of four sections. It would appear chances are that if you are racking up D’s in school, you aren’t going to pass the GEE (in fact, in some particularly undemanding schools – some notable for their athletic successes – there are students with A averages who can’t pass the GEE). So by increasing the GPA standard, this motivates students to prepare themselves better for the GEE. Again, what good is it to string a child along by allowing below a 2.0 and thereby rewarded with extracurricular activity participation knowing the relaxed standards are increasing the risk of failure to graduate? There is, after all, a difference in “keeping kinds in school” as they opponents articulate they want and “preparing kids for life after school” as supporters want.

Finally, the difference in grading scales as a deterrent factor makes no sense. Regardless whether the floor is 1.5 or 2.0, it is the weaker students who would be relegated, the ones who need the most motivation to do better academically.

It helps to remember that participation in extracurricular activities is a privilege, one that should be enjoyed only when the basic job of the student, academic success, is achieved. Having such a low current standard mitigates most of the motivational import these privileges can bring to spur student success – which is measured not by keeping a child in school, but by having him graduate with a meaningful degree. Increasing the standard to at least a 2.0 only will better serve children in the long run, even if it means them spending Friday nights studying instead of under the lights.

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