To teach prospective graduates to write a research paper and motivate senior slackers, many schools are requiring senior projects. Parents and students at Cedarcrest High in Duvall, Washington hated the rigor, a Wall Street Journal story says.
Local parents had been complaining about the projects ever since Cedarcrest made them a graduation requirement in 1993. Some objected to the months of after-school work involved. Others were incensed by grading that sometimes seemed arbitrary and stringent. One year parents wore black armbands to graduation after three seniors were barred from the ceremonies for plagiarizing parts of their papers.
The senior project included an eight-page paper, an oral presentation and the creation of a related “product” . . .
The research paper — excellent preparation for college work — was a shock to students who’d spent their school years writing short reflections and journal entries.
Even three-page papers have become a rarity in English classes and 75% of all seniors say they get no writing assignments at all in history or social studies, according to a 2003 national commission on student writing.
. . . Employers and college professors overwhelmingly rated high-school graduates as “fair” or “poor” in basic math and clear writing in a 2002 study by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research group.
Senior projects took off in the late ’80s, the Journal reports. The goal was to develop skills “needed in the workplace or college, such as identifying problems, working out solutions and communicating effectively.” Pennsylvania, Washington and North Carolina require senior projects, though the rigor level varies greatly from school to school.
Cedarcrest, which had an unusually tough grading policy, eased up in response to angry parents. An ‘F’ on one part of the project no longer guarantees a failing grade. And the paper is much shorter.
After the minimum length for papers was slashed to three pages, from eight, meaty papers about subjects like campaign-finance reform and corporate monopolies gave way to brief essays, such as the history of Barbie dolls and the significance of proms. (Concerned that they might have made the paper too easy, school administrators boosted the minimum length up to four pages for the current school year.) With less to lose by doing badly, students began to take the project less seriously: 43% of the graduating class of 2004 received Fs on their papers, up from 9% for the class of 2003, the year before the changes.
When my daughter was in third grade, she wrote a research paper on the Monarch butterfly that ran about five pages, if memory serves. Why does Cedarcrest wait till senior year to teach students to write a research paper? Perhaps more rigor early on would make the senior project less daunting.