Top 10 Reasons Performance Based Graduation Requirements Should Be Dropped

Arthur Hu / Education Deform Critic

10. It is a radical implementation of Outcome Based Education, which has failed so badly that it has been renamed to Performance and Standards Based Education. This is the same system of beliefs underlying the flawed and equally radical ESHB 1209 Performance Based Education Reform of 1993. This system has failed time and again across the nation, but keeps on getting brought out again by educational radicals promoting "lifelong education" and "world class standards".

9. OBE promises that All Will Succeed, but instead All Will Fail. OBE sets fuzzy standards that look impressive on paper, but in fact result in massive failure rates. As many as 85% of students are failing "proficiency" defined by performance based tests such as the WASL in Washington, only 2% of high schools met proficiency standards in Virginia.

8. The Process gives a false illusion of community support . There are no arguments or information about problems with such a scheme. A consensus-based process using the Delphi process and Total Quality Management techniques facilitates participants into approving a process towards a pre-determined outcome with no open debate or balance.

7. Littleton’s experiment resulted in an academic and political bloodbath. OBE is the educational equivalent of Chinas failed Great Leap Forward. The following was included in district documents supporting change: From Alan Davis and Catherine Felknor. The Demise of Performance-Based Graduation in Littleton. Educational Leadership. March 1994. p.64- 65. • In February, 1994 a newly elected school board eliminated the performance- based requirements for graduation, despite evidence of improved instruction. Student confusion about portfolio requirements, and student struggling with demonstrations led to student dissatisfaction with the graduation requirements. Public meetings revealed the public was upset with the high stakes of the graduation requirements. There was also some discussion about the generation of criteria for the standards.

The "dissatisfaction" was so high that a war erupted as Back To Basics parents took over the Outcome Based Education advocates on the school board. Similar standards adopted in other states such as Minnesota are also meeting with much opposition and criticism.

6. Fuzzy passing level criterion is left up to subjective committees. Unlike grades which are universally accepted and understood. Experience with performance based tests such as WASL show the results are levels of proficiency that only a small proportion of students can actually demonstrate, and standards far higher than even the top 1% of students have been required to perform in previous years. 80% of state students have failed math standards even though state students are above national average, and US 4th graders ranked among the top in the world. The actual assessments bear no resemblance to written contents standards when 4th grade WASL math tests clearly require skills such as ratio and proportion and equation solving specified at grades 7 and 10. Any student who completely mastered traditional 4th grade textbook material would fail the new test. The New Standards presents as an example of a 4th grade performance demonstration, two students working with a professional carpenter to design and construct a bicycle trailer complete with 3-view and perspective drawings, and a parts list detailed down to "counter sink drill bit". Imagine what a high school project would be like.

5. No one is asking for such changes except radical educators who want to get credit for implementing "reform". Neither colleges nor employers are asking for or requiring such "performance" measures. There are no "skills for the 21st Century that cannot be taught by a traditional education. This is being driven by education researchers eager to try out their theories on our children.

4. Mastery for All is an illusion. There is an assumption that clear standards enable Japan and Germany to educate all students to the same high level that our state would match with a Certificate of Mastery. But in fact, both Japan and Germany award a wide range of quality of diplomas and test scores ranging from the illiterate up to those competitive with the best US students. No state, district, school or even test classroom has ever demonstrated the dream of "world class proficiency" for all students. The Certificate of Mastery at a state level is not a workable concept when standards are set at levels that deem as many as half of students as worse than proficient.

3. Mandantory Service The RAND Corporation study showed that a mandantory service requirement did not result in higher levels of participation than schools which simply made such opportunities available on a voluntary basis. Libertarians believe that mandantory service infringes on individual rights and amounts to involuntary servitude to serve a political agenda.

2. Grades and Test Scores are Sufficient to determine proficiency levels for colleges and job. There is no reason to replace or redefine grades with "performance demonstrations of proficiency". Current standards permit students to demonstrate a minimal level of passing with a D grade, and have ample opportunity to show better performance levels with better grades or test scores if they wish to work harder or apply to competitive colleges or jobs. It is not the job of the state to require A or B levels of performance.

1. The stakes for failure are too high. A diploma is a requirement for most well paying jobs and military service, and college. It is far better to permit some students to coast with a D than to punish students simply because they cannot meet the expectations of a few reformers. The belief that students will rise "to the bar" no matter how high it is set has not been demonstrated. Students like those in Littleton will suffer from too much work and high failure rates when committees set unrealistic expectations based on the abilities of only the best students, as is the practice of "Standards Based" instruction.


What You Can Do

Talk to other citizens and parents about the whole story of education reform. Insist on hearing both sides of the story, and a two-sided presentation of information as we have come to expect from a Voter’s pamphlet. Ask educators to back their promises with proof of improved performance, not mantras. Become informed about the history and philosophical basis for progressive education reform and outcome based education.

More Information Sources:

Mathematically Correct

Education Deform

Arthur Hu day 206-748-5347 eve 425-814-2183


Education Consumers

The entire Littleton story:

Outcomes Go: The Anatomy of an Insurrection. By Ed Lederman. How a grassroots parents coalition stopped the Outcome Based Education steamroller in Littleton, Colorado.