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.