The Honour Roll

Kent, Lauren and I after a school awards night.
Kent, Lauren and I after a school awards night.


Right now, my younger brother, Kent, is on the final stretch of his high school career, and set to graduate at the end of June.  Just like anyone in his shoes, he couldn’t be more excited to be done and is counting down the days.  I remember how slowly those final few months seemed to go by.  As Kent’s older brother, I am extremely proud of him.

Kent is profoundly deaf which, as you might imagine, has made his education a struggle over the years.  When he was three years old, he was a recipient of a cochlear implant.  I will spare you the details, since that is not what this post is about, but essentially this implant has allowed him to hear, albeit not as clearly as non-deaf people can (if you want to learn more about Cochlear Implants, check out this site).  Despite his implant, he obviously has some communication difficulties.  His speech and vocabulary is less than what is expected for his age, but incredible considering the challenges he faces every day that most people could not possibly imagine.  Because of this, he has had to take some modified classes, which cover the exact same material, just with simpler language.

Kent’s work ethic and the knowledge he has gained because of it makes my high school efforts look pathetic.  Despite his disability, Kent has been able to achieve over an 80% average.   I find this incredible.   I couldn’t imagine battling through a disability like his and achieving like he has. I  have given up because of much, much less difficult challenges on many occasions.

I graduated top of my class receiving the Governer General’s Academic Medal and was on the honour roll at the school since seventh grade.  In my eyes, what I achieved academically doesn’t even come close to what Kent has.  Kent has never been on the honour roll and I have never seen his efforts, which greatly outweigh many, recognized at a school awards night.   Below is an excerpt from the school’s student handbook.

Schools are academic institutions. We honour academic excellence in several ways in [our] School:
The Honour Roll is printed in our graduation exercise program each year. To be included on
the Honour Roll a student must have achieved an average of 75% (or better) to the end of
term three.
To be listed on our honour wall, a student must have achieved a final
average of 80% or better

But wait, didn’t I say he has had over an 80% average?  I certainly did, but if you ever walk through the halls of our school, you will  not find Kent’s name on the honour roll  plaques. Why?  Apparently, if you take any modified classes, you are no eligible to be on the honour roll.  I’m sure you can imagine the thoughts that came into my head and the words that came out of my mouth when I finally learned about this earlier this year.

Are the achievements of students with disabilities not good enough? Are their accomplishments not worthy enough to be listed side by side those of able-bodied students?

I dug around a little more and found this on the school’s website (copied word for word):

A] VISION STATEMENT – Students will be knowledgeable, independant and respectful lifelong learners who contribute positively to society.

B] MISSION STATEMENT – To create a positive learning environment that ensures student learning and personal growth.


  1. Recognition of all student successes in academic and extra-curricular activities.
  2. Independant learning so that all students achieve personal growth.
  3. Community involvement.
  4. A safe, caring, respectful learning environment that promotes lifelong learning.
Kent at school
Kent at school

I hope I’m not the only one who sees the problem with this picture.   How can you possibly think a positive learning environment is being created when this is happening?   Clearly, these so-called “values” are not something that are taken seriously.  We value the recognition of all student successes in academic and extra-curricular activities? Either this is being overlooked or Kent doesn’t fit in the category of all students.

I vividly recall him being upset on the days of both mine and my sister’s graduation, since the honour roll students were shared in the ceremony programs.  In no way, does this promote lifelong learning.  What motivation is there for him to continue working this hard?

What is the purpose of an honour roll anyways?  Surely it is great to recognize students accomplishments.  But is it really effective when students who do not try get recognized and students who try their hardest do not?  I understand that those questions could lead to all sorts of discussion about assessment, so I’ll stop there.

We are supposed to be doing our best to provide students with an inclusive education, or at least that’s what I’m being taught currently.  How can this ever happen if this is incidents like this occur?  Does this happen anywhere else?  As a future teacher, what can I do?

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Comments 24
  1. A really compelling case for a second look at how school divisions and schools reward excellence. We say we want an environment of inclusion, and then you read about Kent Webb and it becomes clear we still have a long way to go. These stories need to be shared with the public or else they will continue to be swept under the rug.

  2. It is a sad truth that schools tend to value conformity over everything else, and, in general, school awards tend to go to those students who consistently do the expected.

    So I’ve watched schools, for example, begin this in kindergarten by putting the photos of boys who played PeeWee American Football and the girls who were on the mini-cheerleading squad, in a special place at the school entrance. And I’ve seen attendance rewarded with plaques when chronically sick students who struggled to keep up from hospital rooms got no recognition. And I see Honor Rolls devoted to students who simply test well, no matter the effort they put forth.

    All of these systems are incredibly destructive to any student who is different, whether because of differing mobility, sensory, or learning difference, or because they are not from the power-holding socio-economic group. And all those school administrators who allow these program to go on, are, in my mind, enablers of an evil.

    But you ask what you can do, so I will suggest this. Fight back. Not just by questioning the standards used for these awards, but by ensuring that all of your students know they are valued for what they, individually, do.

    When I coached soccer at an American-football loving HS, I made sure we did a lot to recognize each kid, because neither the school nor the booster club would do that. But if a teacher showed up at a game, the kids faces would light up. So I began to coach Odyssey of the Mind too, assembling teams of those “weird kids.” The school again was totally unsupportive, but we found ways to celebrate every week, and I made sure, win or lose, that the tournament weekend was a big deal filled with whatever “honors” I could develop. And then, I found my way to HS/MS theater, more “weird kids.” Kids with “disabilities,” kids with behavioral issues, kids who were “too smart,” kids who had suffered profound losses. And we found ways to be applauded and cheered.

    In other words, find your ways to honor kids like your brother. And make it clear that their accomplishments – in solving their own problems – are the accomplishments that really matter in life. And the “Honor Roll,” once you’re out of school, that’s a joke. No one will ever care.

  3. I have a couple of thoughts.

    The first is the obsession we have with academics and grading. We have given so much value to distinguishing between a 79 and an 80. I”m not sure it’s always a bad thing but it certainly it’s over emphasized. As Ira states, schools need to do a better job of recognized student achievement in a variety of areas. If and when we value the whole child, not only will our system begin to reflect that by offering a more complete education and does not emphasize certain subjects over others, but we’ll then be able to more equally acknowledge those varied accomplishments. This system values ranking students, creating winners and losers. We don’t say that verbally but that’s what we do.

    At the same time we all like to keep score. Our measures are not always accurate but whether it’s 7 year olds playing soccer or 17 year olds competing for scholarships, we keep score. Even when we’re inclusive, at some point we don’t distinguish based on ability, we’re all playing together. At what point do we avoid accommodations? As schools, we ought to be seeking dignity for all students and yet whenever we identify one’s strengths over another, the potential for injustice or perceived injustice might exist.

    I agree that effort should be acknowledged and rewarding, possibly on par with achievement. The problem we have now is that we lump both, and often behaviour into a single number. A 75 for one child might suggested they worked really hard and achieved an acceptable level of understanding. A 75 for someone else might suggest a high level of understanding but poor achiever or lack of participation brings it down. To me, that’s not fair to either. The 75 means nothing because everyone interprets it differently. Therein lies the problem with much of our current grading systems.

    Anyways, a few thoughts to chew on.

  4. This is the whole reason that we have actually done away with awards at our school and now focus on recognizing students. I am not surprised that something like this happened as “modified” marks are not recognized the same in many educational institutions. I really believe, like Dean said, that recognizing the whole child is of the greatest importance. Awards, are often based on subjective marks, and although creating a rubrics may help with a student’s understanding of marks, it is still not an exact science. Recognition of the strengths of each student is the focus at my school, not awards. How that is done, should also be individualized for each student.

  5. Great Post … the thoughts, not the events that prompted it.

    I am reminded of a similar situation we had at our school a few years back. The high school where I teach has a fairly bizarre policy of calling everyone with a 4.0 or above GPA the ‘valedictorian’. There was a special education student who ran cross country for me who was in modified classes.

    His GPA in the end came up a little short of 4.0, but I remember his father asking me whether or not he would have been recognized as a valedictorian had he earned a 4.0 in his modified classes. I didn’t have a good answer for him at the time, and as far as I know the school district still hasn’t addressed it.

    And like Ira, I also always try to celebrate the accomplishments of the kids. We used to have cross country meets on the same night as the JV football game … and of course JV football is still bigger then Varsity XC … when we got back from our meet, I would always run up to the press box, and get the announcer to read off a summary of highlights from our meet over the game PA.

    I like to let the football crowd know there is other stuff going on. In fact I eventually even had some ex football players run for me since I seemed to be more respectful of ALL the athletes on my team, not just the stars.

  6. My sister has cerebral palsy and some learning disabilties, so I definitely identify with this topic. Does one have to be in a certain number of modified classes to not be eligible for honour roll? My sister was in modified math, and she was still on honour roll.

    Like Dean, I find that there is often way too much emphasis on grades, particularly at some schools. We should be celebrating students in general, not just because they can dunk or get fantastic grades.

  7. Thank you for the comments. This post has generated some great discussion, and even led to a phone call from the school regarding it. Although I likely broke some teacher federation ethic codes (I will blog about this in the near future), the school held a lengthy staff meeting regarding the topic and I was able to have an extensive conversation with the principal regarding the topic. I will hear back this weekend about whether or not changes have been made to the school policies.

    Eric, I hope that this can encourage others, whether it be my classmates or someone who stumbles across this post, to speak up about other instances. I hope that improvements in inclusive education will continually be made and reevaluated. Thanks for commenting!

    Ira, I had never even thought of the examples you have mentioned, like the attendance award. I will continue to question these practices and, thanks to your suggestion, will try to find ways to acknowledge my students when I teach. I can’t imagine this being an easy task, since I’m sure many people do not do this. I hope my fellow student-teachers right now will strive to do this as well. Thanks for the great thoughts and suggestion!

    Dean, I’m curious, have any schools or divisions experimented with a grading system that seperates work level and knowledge and behaviour? Will we ever see a system that distinguishes these different aspects and gives a more thorough, useful assessment? I’m very uneducated with regards to assessment, but I hope steps are being taken to head in that direction.

    George, Was there a struggle getting rid of awards at your school? I can imagine people would be upset that thier child wasn’t given the opportunity to win an award. I can also see students who are used to winning the awards being upset that they are no longer recognized for that acheivement.

    Ed, I hope that the school district hasn’t just forgot about that. I hope that they know what they will do if a situation like that occurs again, and I hope it includes including the student. I applaud you effort to get your cross country athletes recognized. I hope one day I will be able to have an impact like that.

    Mike, When I talked to the principal he had told me that their “past practice” was that they never even calculated the averages for student who had taken modified classes. So, I guess, one modified class took you out of the running. They are reevaluating that policy, and I should hear back this weekend where things are now.

  8. I’m encouraged by the message you relayed about the discussion you had with the school principal because it’s a sign that this school anyway is considering how it can update some of its practices. It seems that our educational establishment has been entrenched in the same paradigm of what’s most valuable and only in the last ten or so years we’ve begun to question ourselves and the truthfulness of what we do.
    You asked Dean about separating work level, knowledge and behaviour when it comes to assessment and I want to assure you that many jurisdictions are doing exactly this. The theory anyway is to separate achievement compared to curriculum standards of proficiency from all of the non-academic behaviours that affect learning. The practice, on the other hand, is much slower going because we’re attempting to change teachers’ practice not just their knowledge. It’s not just teachers either–just this afternoon I spoke to a consultant who’s trying to help a teacher change her grading practices and the biggest barrier to the change is the students who don’t want their cheese moved.
    I guess the direction we’re going is not just to separate achievement grades from behaviour but to recognize learning growth (ipsative assessment) as important enough to measure, report, strive toward and celebrate as we go along. That would put Kent on the honour roll.

  9. I will offer our ‘developing perspective’ on initiatives and changes that we have been trying to understand in our school division on assessment, evaluation & grading. For a full account of changes that we are recommending, pl check our webpage Prairie South School Division, under Staff, Curriculum & Instruction, Assessment, Report Cards & Grading, Grading Practices & Research—this last doc provides a synposis of the research and recommended practices.

    To answer your questions:
    Have any schools or divisions experimented with a grading system that seperates work level and knowledge and behaviour?

    Our grade 1-5 report cards separate achievement from social aspects. This will be done with all grades, as new curriculum roll out in our province, all of our reporting will be to student learning outcomes — hence reporting on student proficiency of outcomes which introduces a major shift, yet effective practice.

    Will we ever see a system that distinguishes these different aspects and gives a more thorough, useful assessment?

    We must understand that we have inherited a 100 year old tradition in assessment (gathering–to improve learning, not for grades), evaluation (judgement for grades) & grading practices. Recently, many writers and school districts have gone before us with exactly the kinds of changes discussed by the contributors in this dialogue. We see shifts from everything being accountable, to practice being allowed and about 15-20 summative grades/course (Marzano, 2006)or what we call formative work (assessment for learning) and summative work (assessment of learning). Some folks use a sports analogy where practice is to improve learning, while grades are ‘the game’.

    Your second point about “useful assessment” — or what we call authentic, reliable, quality assessment is being addressed all over the world. Rick Stiggins, Jan Chappuis, Dylan Wiliam, Bob Marzano, Thomas Guskey….are the leaders in the field. I’d suggest that folks start by listening to Dylan Wiliam’s podcasts that address the issues within.

    Apart from educators ‘doing assessment, evaluation & grading’ more effectively, the most compelling reason these issues must be addressed is that they should not only report student achievement & progress—they should promote it! My dream is that students would be such active partners in their learning journey, that they are meaningfully involved, able to determine, track and report their own learning because they see the importance & relevance to their own learning journey. I think it’s Rick Stiggins who asks, what assessment would your students not want to miss? What a great question to guide us into the important changes and dialogues to improve our practice.

    Thank you for your questions and helping us all learn to be more effective.

  10. Some interesting thoughts. I’m too “zooed out” (aka “post-reportcard-traumatic-stress-syndrome”) to read everything carefully.

    However I was reminded of something I’d written years ago in a grad class paper. I said something like: If we believe schools to promote equality, then we would take all the scholarship money and divide it by the number of students in the graduating class when handing it out. We don’t do that.

    If you won a G-G award then you took home a whole lot more cash than most of the other students in your graduating class. Would you have worked as hard for totally intrinsic reasons if your scholarship had been divided up among all your classmates? Our schools are not places of equality. I think the discussion of grades and awards needs to be a community one as well as a school one. I’ve taught students that have “busted their buns” to get a 50% so they can be allowed to go to graduation at all. For them the chance to go was reward enough in itself.

    I do think you raise some good points. Even though your brother was taking “modified” classes, he was following the prescribed sequence of classes that every other student used to calculate an average. He should be recognized on a school honour roll. After all, what an honour roll says is, “These students got average scores of 80% or better on their prescribed courses of study.” He did that.

  11. Kudos to you for identifying an injustice and asking meaningful questions about it. Although this was inspired by your brother it lends itself to look at the bigger picture of what we value in schools and more importantly how we value our students… all of them!

    A while back I wrote this as the opening paragraph in my Statement of Educational Philosophy:

    The goal of education is to enrich the lives of students while producing articulate, expressive thinkers and lifelong learners, that are socially responsible, resilient, and active citizens of the world. Education is about teaching students, not subjects. It is about engaging students in their learning, and maximizing the potential of each and every child. Education is about looking beyond the child’s intellect, and seeing the whole child. Education is about providing students with opportunities to be challenged and still succeed.

    Your brother and many others are defining characters of what it means to be a ‘successful student’, a child that overcomes challenges and succeeds. You are correct when you say, “We are supposed to be doing our best to provide students with an inclusive education,” and I applaud you for exploring why a school policy does not match with our intended goals.

  12. Kyle, when I first heard about your brother when you did your teaching session, he was all a could think about for the next few days. I worked for a few years as a teachers aid and I could see how teachers would talk about integration and equality for all the students, but their actions did not speak louder than their words. I became frustrated more than a few times because some of the students who had special challenges were not allowed to excel to their fullest ability. Many times restrictions are put on students and therefore there are times when the students even put restrictions on themselves. I think that it’s so great that your brother worked so hard and had the confidence in himself to excel. I still don’t understand why he was not rewarded for this. I am so glad that your post has opened up the eyes of some of the educators out there and that they are meeting to make changes. I think that people get stuck in an old way of doing things and don’t even realize what they are doing. Way to go on opening people’s eyes and making a difference.

  13. I am completely fascinated with this story. I did some work at a deaf school last year and I understand the struggle and complications a deaf or hard of hearing student may have when getting their education. The school worked hard at trying to promote success for every student and celebrating their achievements.
    It was awesome to see the joy on students faces when they were mentioned on the honour roll or even mentioned for their efforts. A lot of the students at the school had other disablities along with being deaf and many different programs were established for them. Some students were graduating at the appropriate age but others were 19,20 even 21, but every student recieved the same acknowledge.
    I think your brother should have been on the honour roll even if he were in a different program. I understand they are trying to keep a standard protocol for being on the honur roll but I think they need to look more at the individual than the whole student body. Just a thought.

  14. Great job Kyle. I agree with your article 100% and Kent has done amazingly well despite the obsticales that he has had to over come. Especially growing up in a small school where “average is not good enough” and only the scholars get recognized. Kent has achieved over the average and still is not recognized by being on the Honor Roll. Seems to be backwards……………………

  15. I decided to check out your blog because I read my brother Mike’s blog and he linked to this blog post. Like Mike said I was able to be on the honour roll at my high school even though I was in a modified math class. I think your brother Kent should get the same recognition that everyone else gets. Having suffered with my disability my entire life I know how hard things can be. Your brother should be commended for his efforts.

    Although personal achivement is what really counts it is an amazing feeling to be recogized for our achievements. Sometimes it is the force that pushes us to countine reaching for our goals.

  16. Take the normal classes and then complain. If you don’t take the same classes as everyone else, you don’t deserve it. The rules are perfectly good. I have no sympathy. You shouldn’t use disabilities as excuses.

  17. Quite Concerned, I don’t think anyone would say he was using his disability as an excuse. Someone who is physically not capable to participate the same way as anyone else should not be punished. In Kent’s case, he was still taking the same classes as everyone else, and I felt should have been recognized the same as everyone else. I would like to hear your suggestions for how this matter could be handled otherwise.

  18. I have a son with a different kind of disability. He has Down syndrome, and he is 37 now. He’s the most academic of my three kids, and I mean it… not in some pathetic condescending way. He pays attention. He is a serious critic. He has no tolerance for fools. He remembers important things and refuses to internalize trivial things. He inspires.

    Honour rolls. Silly. Trivial. Unnecessary. And at their worst, soul destroying. The older I get, the less tolerant I’m becoming of the deleterious effects of grading and its offspring.

  19. Kyle, I really can’t even find words that can describe how angry this makes me. Just make sure that he knows how proud of him you are.

    On the topic of Honour Rolls, I completely agree with Richard on them: “silly, trivial, unnecessary, and at their worst, soul destroying.” When I was in school, we had the magnificent “HONOUR ROLL” from about Grade 7-10. In my Grade 11 and 12 years, the formal announcements and the postings on the Honour Wall were removed from our school. At the end of each school year, I still received an Honour Roll certificate in my report card, but it was never posted on an Honour Wall.

    I asked my former principal and vice principal why it was removed from the school, and they both said that it is seen as a type of bullying. Everyone has accomplishments, but not everyone will be part of the Honor Roll/Wall. And at that point, they started to recognize everyone in the school for their accomplishments, big or small! We used to have assemblies once a month in the morning where I would get to know a student that I had never known in my school before because of one of their accomplishments. The teachers did a great job of getting to know their students and showing interest in order to seek those events that were important to them. I think that was way more empowering than a stupid honor roll wall!

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