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Volume 17, Number 4
July/August 2001

Seeking a Cure for Senior-Year Slump

Some schools are working harder to challenge and engage their soon-to-be graduates


Seventeen-year-old Ajah Smith is standing in the middle of the gym floor at Central Park East Secondary School in Harlem. He nervously passes a basketball between his hands as he responds to questions from a committee of two teachers and a student. In the first of his five portfolio presentations required for graduation, Ajah talks about a science experiment he conducted that measured the time it took test subjects to react to sounds. He found that their reaction time slowed when their hearing was obstructed, and he tries to link that knowledge to the effects of variables such as crowd noise on his performance during a basketball game. After ten minutes of questioning, the committee members move to the bleachers to discuss and grade Ajah’s written report and presentation.

His advisor, Joel Handorff, is impressed. “I thought his oral presentation was phenomenal,” he says, marking a grade on an assessment sheet. “I’ve seen him go through a lot of work on this written report. I was pleased to see he used the science.” Teacher David Feldman is more critical. “I didn’t think he made very strong connections between the science and [his basketball experience],” he says, explaining why he gave the essay a lower grade. Still, all three judges give Ajah perfect scores for his relaxed and thoughtful presentation. Ajah is pleased with the committee’s feedback, but his work is far from over. “I still have presentations to do in math, science, history, and literature,” says Ajah, who’s hoping to attend college on a basketball scholarship next year. “I’m trying to do schoolwork, portfolios, and presentations at the same time. I don’t have any time to slack off.”

As a motivated senior, Ajah may be in the minority. A report released earlier this year by the National Commission on the High School Senior Year describes the typical senior year as a lackadaisical “farewell tour of adolescence and school.” The senior slump is blamed in part on early college decisions, time-consuming after-school jobs, and lots of partying.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

D. Bensman. “Learning to Think Well: Central Park East Secondary School Graduates Reflect on Their High School and College Experiences.” New York: The National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching, 1995.

Central Park East Secondary School, 1573 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10029; 212-860-8935; fax: 212-860-5933.

L. Darling-Hammond and J. Ancess. “Graduation by Portfolio at Central Park East Secondary School.” New York: National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching, 1994.

Eastern Technical High School, 1100 Mace Ave., Baltimore, MD 21221; 410-887-0190; fax: 410-887-0424.

M.W. Kirst. “Overcoming the High School Senior Slump: New Education Policies.” Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2001.

G.I. Maeroff, P.M. Callan, and M.D. Usdan. The Learning Connection: New Partnerships Between Schools and Colleges. New York: Teachers College Press, 2000.

National Commission on the High School Senior Year. “The Lost Opportunity of the Senior Year: Finding a Better Way.” Washington, DC: National Commission on the High School Senior Year, January 2001.

National Commission on the High School Senior Year, 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Room 4W307, Washington, DC 20202; 202-260-7405; fax: 202-205-6688.

Riverdale Country School, 5250 Fieldston Rd., Bronx, NY 10471; 718-549-8810; fax: 718-519-2795.