The lack of autonomy in schools: a study of College of the Sequoias

Autonomy, or the ability to make one’s own choices, an essential for human development and growth. It is especially important for students, who need to learn to think for themselves and make their own decisions in order to succeed in school and in life. However, many schools today lack autonomy, and students are often forced to follow a rigid curriculum and standardized testing regimen. This can have a negative impact on student learning and achievement.


College of the Sequoias: A Case Study

College of the Sequoias (COS) is a community college in Visalia, California. It has a graduation rate of 28-34% within a two-year frame, which is below the state average of 41%. This low graduation rate suggests that COS students are struggling to succeed.

One reason for COS’s low graduation rate is its lack of autonomy. COS students are required to take a certain number of general education courses and to pass standardized tests in order to graduate. This leaves students with few choices about what they learn and how they learn it.

As said by PhD, Susan Elizabeth, a psychology professor, “School is a place meant to encourage the type of thinking we need in the world today, in the 21st century. How is a standardized test going to save us from climate change?”

Another reason for COS’s low graduation rate is its emphasis on standardized testing. Standardized tests are often biased against students from low-income families and students of color.

Brent Kennedy, a COS staff member said, “The hardest part people will go through in college is General-Ed, and the system is a limit especially to people of color.” Additionally, standardized tests do not measure the full range of student learning.

According to a 2023 study by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, students who score in the bottom quartile on standardized tests are more likely to drop out of college than students who score in the top quartile. The study also found that standardized tests are not a good predictor of student success in college.


The Impact of Lack of Autonomy on Student Learning and Achievement

Lack of autonomy can have a negative impact on student learning and achievement in a number of ways. First, when students are not given a choice in what they learn, they are less likely to be motivated to learn. Second, when students are forced to learn in a way that does not align with their learning styles, they are less likely to succeed. Third, when students are constantly under the pressure of standardized testing, they are more likely to experience anxiety and stress, which can also impact their learning.

A 2021 study by the National Education Association found that teachers are increasingly feeling pressure to focus on standardized testing at the expense of other important aspects of education, such as critical thinking and creativity. The study found that 81% of teachers believe that standardized testing has a negative impact on student learning. I personally know I feel stressed, this semester I decided to take 4 courses and in the span of 3 months I’ve had to take over 14 tests that all count for more than 30% of my grade. And they are not subjects that pertain to my career, yet if I don’t pass them I can’t do what I already know how to do? No alternatives. Standardized testing was part of high school, and now in college I find myself, still in the same boat. Professor, Marc Royster, PhD In Astronomy, said, ” There doesn’t seem to be a “tight” correlation between student’s test scores, and how well they are in actually succeeding, for example in research or even applying it to real life situations.”



“I think that the true purpose of school is to allow a student to choose what they want/need to learn, learn it how they want/need to learn it and display what they learned how they want/need to display it. All supported my the focused encouragement of staff and educators.”

“Multiple Measures Approach” (MMA) is a way of assessing student learning that uses a variety of different methods, rather than just one. This approach is based on the idea that students learn in different ways and at different paces, and that no single assessment method can accurately capture all of their knowledge and skills. The key concept is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are some examples of different MMA methods:

  • Portfolios: Collections of student work that demonstrate their learning over time. This could include essays, projects, artwork, and other examples of student work.
  • Surveys: Questions asked to students to learn about their learning experiences, attitudes, and perceptions. This information can be used to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, and to develop targeted interventions.
  • Observations: Watching students work and interacting with them to learn about their learning. This can be done one-on-one, in small groups, or as a whole class.
  • Performances: Allowing students to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in a real-world context. This could include giving a presentation, performing a play, or conducting experiments.
  • Products: Assessing students’ work, such as essays, projects, and presentations. This can be done using rubrics, checklists, or other criteria.

MMAs can be used to assess student learning in any subject area, and at any grade level. They are particularly useful for students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who learn in different ways.


Recommendations for COS

COS can improve its graduation rate and student success by taking the following steps:

  • Dismantle the “General Educational Approach” to the educational experience.
  • Dismantle the “Study-to-Test” course approach to the courses themselves.
  • Allow full autonomy over course selection.
  • Support student body with “focused encouragement”.


Call to Action:

In conclusion, the lack of autonomy in schools is a serious problem that is having a negative impact on student learning and achievement. College of the Sequoias can improve its graduation rate and student success by giving students more choices in their learning, reducing the emphasis on standardized testing, and in doing so providing more support for students who are struggling. I encourage COS students, faculty, and staff to speak out about the lack of autonomy in schools and to demand that COS give students more choices in their learning and reduce its reliance on standardized testing.


  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):
  • Data USA:
  • “Rethinking Standardized Tests”. published by the National Education Association (NEA) March 19, 2021

2 thoughts on “The lack of autonomy in schools: a study of College of the Sequoias

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  1. This article doesn’t hold weight. The hypothesis isn’t supposed to predetermine the outcome. Your case study fails to mention many other factors to graduation rates at COS, the most important and obvious is that COS is a very successfull transfer school. Students gain acceptance into larger institutions to complete their 4 and 5 year degrees. This isn’t a failure by COS, this is what it is great at. It offers the correct application courses, that instutions accept their credits as transfer equivalent. Basing the entire case studies ‘predetermined’ hypothesis on graduation rates alone, and failing to identify the actual reasons for the lower than state averages, makes this artricle lack in the factual standing that is used to confirm its results.

  2. This is a poorly written “case study” which lacks true research and supporting data. This type of outlook is typical of today’s youth; they want better pay for less work, and no responsibilities or oversight in the workplace. Would you want a surgeon operating on you who never took a standardized licensing test?
    I’m sorry, but you must prove that you’ve attained at least minimum level of competency to obtain a college degree; otherwise a degree means nothing to a potential employer.

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