Experimental high school does away with the D

by Leonardo Castaneda

The San Diego Met High School is quite the crafty institution. Located in the heart of the Mesa College campus, it houses a motley crew of misfits and overachievers. The graduating class tops out at around 50 students, many of whom are from low-income homes or are even homeless.

The Met, as its students affectionately call it, offers personalized attention to those at risk of dropping out of high school, gearing them instead toward a college degree. The high school focuses primarily on what students are interested in as a pathway to learning. This, tied with relentless teacher attention and a dedication to individual success, has given the Met a jaw-dropping graduation rate. In 2008, all 51 graduates were accepted into colleges, including San Diego State and UC Berkeley.

This is what makes the Met so unique. It doesn’t just graduate troubled students; it sends them off with higher grades than any other school in the San Diego Unified School District. It even out-grades such highly touted schools as La Jolla High and San Diego International School.

But there’s a catch. Met students rank abysmally low in standardized test scores. For example, the Met and John Muir School received identical scores on state tests. However, 73 percent of students at Met have a B average or higher, compared to 32 percent at John Muir.

The grades failed to predict standardized test results and preparedness for college. Of the 33 Met graduates who have gone to SDSU in the past three years, only four didn’t have to take remedial classes for math or English.

These kinds of results tend to paint the Met as a case of grade inflation run amok. At the heart of that claim are accusations of rampant and even illegitimate grade changes. The Met allows students to change a grade after it is given through extra credit work. But it is also accused of changing grades given at other districts to incoming students, sometimes on the same day they are enrolled.

Understanding the Met’s high grades became even more complicated when considering what it did to the D grade. Because colleges do not accept a D grade as passing, The Met simply did away with it altogether. This may have encouraged students to work harder, bringing former D students to C students. It could also mean that a student who would have normally received a D grade, magically received a C grade.

The ambiguity in grading, not just within the Met but across the country, is what makes understanding this situation so difficult. Grade inflation certainly is an issue. Nationwide, the average high school GPA increased from 2.47 to 2.77 from 1990 to 2005 without any evidence of increasing intelligence among students. But grade inflation alone isn’t enough to boost students who may otherwise not graduate into UC Berkeley.

Even within the Met’s graduating class there seems to be no clear grading standard. Eric May-Capley graduated from the Met with a 4.0 GPA, a grade he says he didn’t deserve. “I’d have an assignment and I’d turn it in a couple of days late,” Capley said. “I didn’t feel it was my best work, and I’d get a 100.”

Bernabé Ceseña also graduated with a 4.0. He was one of eight valedictorians, who he said all worked hard for their grades. Ceseña is headed to UC Berkeley where he does not have to take any remedial classes.

Finally, there’s Dilia Vasquez. Thanks to the personalized attention given to her by the Met, she was able to graduate with a 3.8 GPA despite a pregnancy. When enrolling at SDSU, she didn’t know what a thesis statement was and had to take a remedial English class.

It’s hard to understand what is going on behind the closed doors of this school. Grade inflation and revision are clearly giving students an unreasonably high average. Their tests results don’t match their lofty grades.

On the other hand, many of the students at the Met might not have graduated at all without its support. Many come from low income families without a history of college attendance, or even high school graduation. While we can applaud the fact that personalized attention got them a high school diploma and even sent them toward a college degree, the simple truth remains that many of them are going off to colleges without being properly prepared.

In this sense, the Met is likely doing some of its students a great disservice. Picture this: Some of its students open their college acceptance letters, take out loans, pack up and head off, only to find two months later this new university doesn’t have a personalized education support system or lenient post-semester grade adjustment programs. Instead, it has D grades and one student advising office for thousands.

We don’t send a soldier off to war if they haven’t been through boot camp. Why send students off into a university system embedded with challenges they have not been prepared to face?

— Leonardo Castaneda is a business administration freshman.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.