In order to earn a diploma, students at Walden III Middle/High School in Racine, Wisconsin, have to complete the Right of Passage Experience (ROPE).
Developed by Walden's teachers in 1973, ROPE is a demanding set of projects and presentations designed to evaluate student achievement and preparation for postsecondary life. The program is based on the principle that students' knowledge is cumulative and that they should be able to demonstrate an ability to apply what they have learned.
ROPE requires students to present evidence of their mastery in sixteen areas, such as English, mathematics, science, government, ethics, and physical challenge, before a committee of teachers, peers, and community members. ROPE does not specify detailed criteria or standards for any of the areas assessed. Each student has to decide how best to present what she has learned and can do; and each committee has to decide whether the student's achievement sufficiently prepares her to carry out her post-secondary plans.
Students prepare for their demonstrations in a semester-long course led by the ROPE instructors who will later evaluate their performance. During the course, students assemble a portfolio of classroom work they began as early as the sixth grade and complete a major research paper in U.S. history.
In addition, they demonstrate their mastery of subjects such as mathematics, government, and world geography by making oral presentations and responding to questions. The ROPE committee evaluates all of these components and issues a final grade. Students who are unsuccessful in meeting the standards pursue further studies before the committee reconvenes. ROPE's instructors say the spirit of their program goes beyond measurement and scores to helping students assess their own skills and potential before leaving high school.