May 20, 2005
There’s going to be a party at Kyrene Middle School — but only for students who passed the district’s standardized tests.
Those who failed aren’t invited.
"It’s going to make kids who don’t test very well in general not feel very good about testing," said sixthgrader Matthew Vendl. "They’re not going to like school as much."
Matthew plans to turn down his invitation to the party, scheduled for Tuesday at the Tempe school.
The party was planned by the site-based council and the school’s PTO, which has donated $500 for the event.
"I think it’s an effort to try to get kids to do their best," said Sue Knudson, a Kyrene Elementary School District governing board member.
Knowing about the party before they took the test could have encouraged students to try harder — and not just fill in holes to create pretty designs on answer sheets, she said.
A handful of parents, including mother Sheryl Vendl, vehemently disagree and have written the principal and superintendent and begged board members to either open the party to all students or cancel it.
"If you’re not proficient, everyone’s going to know your score wasn’t very good," Vendl said. "I just think it’s horrendous because at that age, it’s a big deal to get left out of something."
Matthew has accepted similar invitations for honor roll celebrations where he stood among elite students eating ice cream bars — but he pointed out the school’s "proficiency party" is different.
While the honor roll parties single out the very top students, the proficiency party excludes kids who can’t meet minimal standards on the exam, he said.
District officials and Arizona legal experts, though, say Matthew and the upset parents are simply overreacting to a party that is meant to encourage hard work and congratulate good test scores.
District spokesman Johnny Cruz said the proficiency party is no different than the honor roll parties that Matthew has attended.
Similar parties have been popping up in other parts of the nation, including Ohio, as schools seek to reward kids for good work.
But mother Sheila Coons-Edmiston said the parties may backfire because they risk singling out students who have special needs or other obstacles to overcome — the very students, she said, that schools need to reach out to.
She also questioned whether federal law protecting the privacy of test scores would be violated by the party.
Janis Merrill, the district’s legal counsel, said there’s no problem with some students being excluded.
"It just reveals they aren’t being awarded an honor," Merrill said.
Chris Thomas, legal adviser for the Arizona School Boards Association, said he also doesn’t see the party as a violation of students’ privacy.
"To me, it sounds very much the carrot, as opposed to the stick," he said. "You can naturally assume everybody that didn’t get invited were below a certain level. But I really don’t think that’s disclosure of a record."