In 2017, Corcoran High School implemented a new district alternate assessment, also known as a competency test. This test was required for any student who did not score Standards Met or Standards Exceeded on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. Students who could not pass this assessment would be prohibited from participating in the graduation ceremony.
Not everyone at the school was happy about the assessment. Upset parents and students voiced their discontent at several school meetings. The parents and students felt that the task was impossible and it would lead to an annihilation of the ceremony. However, the school remained vigilant. Students were required to attend tutoring and provide a tutoring ticket as evidence before being allowed to attempt the test. The school principal, Antonia Stone, guaranteed, “If you put forth your best effort, I will not let you fail.”
When June’s graduation ceremony rolled around, no student was prohibited from participating in the ceremony because of this test. Everyone passed. In her graduation speech, Principal Antonia Stone said:
This class, as some of you may recall, was terrified of the alternate exam. They were afraid this test would annihilate their ceremony and prevent them all from walking the line. But, I want to show you that every student here did what too many thought was impossible. These students sitting in front of you exemplified critical thinking when they passed the exam and earned the right to sit here in front of you. And what’s more, zero students lost this privilege due to that exam.
With this said, I want to leave you with this. Remember these challenges. Remember how much you dreaded this assessment and how you argued with such certainty that this would be an impossible task. And, then remember that you did it. And, never again think there is something in this world you can’t do. Never again doubt yourself or let any obstacle stand in your way. Don’t put your energy into fighting against what you are afraid of doing or think you can’t do. Instead, charge ahead. Overcome it.
Musician Dave Grohl said it best when he said, “No one is you, and that is your power.” Think about that. No one can predict what you can or can’t do because there has never been another you. You have this moment to start to carve out amazing futures for yourselves. Or, you can let this be the hardest thing you have ever done and the world will never see how great you are. I want to tell you that I have seen how great you are. From the very beginning, I always believed you could do it. And I will always believe in your abilities, even when you have doubt.
These students are a great example of what happens when they have supporting adults who refuse to let students believe they can’t succeed. The path to success was simple. Create the right motivation and pair it with a challenging task. Put supports in place each step of the way. Believe in our skills as educators and most importantly, believe in the kids.
About Antonia Stone and Rich Merlo
Antonia Stone has been the principal of Corcoran High School since the fall of 2014. She has been with the district for 13 years. In 2016, Superintendent Rich Merlo’s work as a LELA fellow led to the Corcoran Unified School District’s partnership with Education Elements to bring Personalized Learning to the schools. This piece reflects one of the outcomes of their focus on student ownership.