Kill the messenger

Instead of requiring high school students to pass a graduation exam, Delaware decided to award three levels of diplomas: basic, standard and distinguished. The levels are based on students’ performance on state reading, math and writing tests given in 10th grade. Some 52 percent of students are in line for only a basic diploma, 40 percent for standard and only 8 percent for distinguished.

First, honor roll students with mediocre scores complained they have to settle for standard diplomas. Now there’s a furor over the achievement gap: 76 percent of blacks and 70 percent of Hispanics are likely to get only a basic diploma, “resegregating” the graduating class. By contrast, 43 percent of whites and 30 percent of Asians are expected to be basic graduates. (I note that 24 percent of Asians score as distinguished.)

The Legislature is likely to delay the three-tiered plan, killing the messenger. If they wait till students of all races and family backgrounds earn the same test scores, they will wait a long time.

“Eventually, with a good study, they will find it furthers the aura of separation of these kids when, ultimately, you want them to feel that they are just as good as their counterparts,” said Hector Figueroa, education director for the Urban League.

They’re not just as good, of course. Not in reading, writing and math.

The state’s school superintendents also want the three-tiered system to end. Robert Andrzejewski, head of the Red Clay school district, said the system will not motivate students as legislators insisted it would.

“One of the worst things you can do to kids with low self-esteem, who are often of low-income anyway, is show them failure,” he said. “So many of those students have experienced failure in their lives and there comes a point when they decide they have to save face for themselves, and, unfortunately, that may mean they drop out.”

Many states are denying a diploma to students who fail to meet minimum standards. Delaware’s plan gives everyone a diploma, regardless of skills, but rewards those who’ve done average or above-average work with a silver or gold sticker. I don’t think that’s unfair to basic grads. Their problem is not the color of the sticker on their diploma. It’s the fact that they lack the skills — indeed they lack the basic skills — they’ll need to pass a college class or qualify for an apprenticeship or fill out a job application properly.

Dave Huber, a Delaware teacher, has more.

About Joanne


  1. Walter Wallis says:

    One wonders what Hector Figeroa would do if it were stipulated that scoreboards should be rewired so as not to register and show more than 3 points difference?

  2. They have a diploma system like that here in TX.I think it shouldn’t matter which one you get as long as you get a diploma. Joanne, you made some great points. It will be interesting to see how this ends up.

  3. They decide the type of diploma based on a test over two years before graduation???

  4. They decide the type of diploma based on a test over two years before graduation???

    Sort of. The test is administered first in 10th grade. The kids can re-take it a number of times. Some kids who re-took it in November(?) won’t find out their “grade” until a few weeks before graduation.

  5. Most high school graduation exams rarely test 12th grade content, but rather what a student knows at the end of 10th grade (and in California, more like the end of 8th grade).

    The statement “ultimately, you want them to feel that they are just as good as their counterparts,” said Hector Figueroa, education director for the Urban League.

    I guess Mr. Figueroa needs to grow a brain and understand that employers don’t care how you feel about yourself, they are only interested if the prospective employee can do the job (if they can’t, they are GONE).

    Students will always have a lack of motivation, but I would say the concept of working a low wage/skill job for 5-10 years MIGHT provide some incentive in the future to perhaps reflect back and wonder ‘what would have happened had I studied in school’ (instead of wasting my time)?


  6. I teach in Delaware and forwarded this story to Joanne. Teachers here have been working their arses off trying to “bridge the gap” between white/black achievement. But frankly, they’re fed up w/being called “closet racists” and w/being told “they’re not being sensitive enough” to minority “needs.” It’s a Catch-22 — in our integrated schools we “must have high standards for all,” but at the same time we have “to understand and accommodate differences between ethnic/racial groups.” Huh?

    You can read what I have to say on this at my own site. Just click on my name.

  7. Dave,

    I see the same problems here in Nevada, and to be honest with you, I couldn’t CARE less about being sensitive to the needs of . The real world, which academics is not, by the way, is built on the premise that people compete with one another. I know teachers have a god-awful time in the classroom, trying to deal with kids (and their parents) who seem to think that the public school system is free (and expensive) day care. Teachers can only teach subject matter when kids are motivated, want to be in school in the first place, and want to succeed, and to give other students the short end of the stick because a couple of morons in class ruin it for everyone else, it’s just sad to see.

    When I attended high school many years ago, the number of students who were lazy and got into trouble were a very small portion of the school (and everyone knew who they were, and avoided them like the plague, lest they find themselves in trouble as well).

    It would be nice to be able to show kids what their futures would be 10-30 years from now based on their work ethic and behavior in school (I’m sure most would be quite shocked). In my opinion, the best thing that could be done for the public school system would be to eliminate compulsory school attendance after the 8th grade. Then perhaps the students would get an idea of how far they can get on just an 8th grade education (not very far at all).

  8. Walter Wallis says:

    Think up a real fancy sensitive name for it, but then just get them out of the way and let teachers teach kids who want to learn.
    I am an engineer, and if someone ordered me to specify a 200 amp rated wire for a 1000 amp load, I would tell them to kiss it.
    Damn – the country is sinking and idiots are giving the kids concrete water wings.

  9. I live that catch-22, too, Dave. But there’s nothing I can do about it.

  10. Bill: I hear ‘ya, man. There’ve been times when I’ve stopped class cold and tried to “scare the kids straight” on what life ahead holds for ’em if they don’t get their act together. Unfortunately, 8th grade is a loooong way from the “real world,” and too many of the kids recognize this, thinking they have enough time to “get it together.” They’ve no conception that NOW is the time to practice the necessary skills to succeed.

    And, as you say, the kids who couldn’t care less were so much more identifiable back when (I was in 8th grade in ’78-79), and were treated as pariahs, essentially. Now, this slacker mentality is almost the norm.

  11. Well, if the parents and kids would grow a clue, perhaps they’d take high school more seriously. When I finished 8th grade, my dad sat down with me during summer vacation to figure out what I would take during the fall, and after that, I was set on being a geek (still am to this day), but as a result of proper class selection many years ago, I have the career I want today, and enjoy the work that I do (don’t know too many people who can make that statement).

    The kids who were pariahs in my day were usually doing opportunity school (removal from regular school environment), so the disruptions were kept to a minimum. These days, kids who act like the class fool seem to get all the attention and admiration from their friends (sigh).

  12. Rest assured, after about five years, 70% will graduate with a “distinguished” degree and after ten this will be more like 90%.

  13. Frank,

    Due to either dumbing down of requirements, or lawsuits cause we don’t want to hurt Johnny’s self-esteem (waaaah)!

  14. PJ/Maryland says:

    “One of the worst things you can do to kids with low self-esteem, who are often of low-income anyway, is show them failure,” [the head of the Red Clay school district] said.

    So obviously, we need to hide their failure from them!

  15. Mad Scientist says:

    Ah, Delaware! I lived there from 1990-1997 and I liked it. I hope to retire there some day. Just about the only thing worthwhile in the Wilmington News-urinal is the “Comics” section. But what do you expect from a Gannett paper?

  16. Mad: Rest assured that 7 years later the News Journal is still known as the News Urinal!