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Debating Eighth-Grade Graduations

Are the ceremonies a good way to recognize success in school? Or do they waste money and send the wrong message? Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

In the United States, middle school is the period between elementary school and eighth grade. Often this is a difficult period of change for children. If all goes well, four years later, they are high school graduates.

Graduation is a term traditionally connected with high school or college. Yet there are even kindergartens and preschools that hold "graduations." These might be mostly for fun. But some people are concerned about the popularity of eighth-grade graduations.

Some families may have trouble paying for costly celebrations organized by parents or schools. Yet they may feel social pressure to take part.

The same criticism has been made for years about high school graduations and senior proms. A prom, short for promenade, is a formal dance.

But critics say that, more importantly, eighth-grade graduations may send the wrong message -- that an eighth-grade education is enough. They are concerned especially about poor communities where many people never finish high school.

The subject has even entered the presidential campaign. Democratic candidate Barack Obama talked about it in a recent speech at a Chicago church. The senator from Illinois said children should be expected to finish high school and college. He reminded people "you're supposed to graduate from eighth grade."

"Let's not have a huge party," he said, "let's just give them a handshake."

A growing number of middle school administrators seem to agree. They are making changes. For example, instead of graduation, some schools now call it a promotion ceremony.

James Williams is the superintendent of public schools in Buffalo, New York. He is urging the schools in his district to hold "moving up" ceremonies at the end of eighth grade. Families would celebrate that students are moving up to the next level of their education.

The school chief says graduation from high school should be the goal. And the ceremony then, he says, should be an important, special and serious event in students' lives.

But some parents in schools that are trying to limit eighth-grade graduations say administrators are overreacting. They say graduation ceremonies are a good way to celebrate success in school. And they say the recognition might make some students more likely to complete their education.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.