Opinion: New Georgia law gives diplomas to students who didn’t earn them

A teacher sent me a note about the brand new law freeing former Georgia high school students from passing the Georgia High School Graduation Test.

Signed this week by the governor, House Bill 91 will enable about 9,000 Georgians who could not pass the test to now receive a high school diploma.

Here’s the problem, according to the teacher. Among those 9,000 are some students who don’t deserve a diploma, yet now they are going to collect the same one earned by the class valedictorian.

The teacher asks important questions: Is that fair? Have we devalued the diploma?

The teacher’s perspective gave me a lot to think about and made me wonder if we are ever going to get this education thing right.

Here is what the teacher wrote:

I taught in Georgia’s public schools before, during and after the state passed the law requiring students to pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test to receive a diploma. The test had its merits.

Although I had a hard time believing a test consisting of somewhere around 80 questions, covering three years of course work, could adequately and accurately assess whether a student deserved a diploma, I supported the testing.

Students could pass the test by getting less than half of the questions correct. Our school usually saw three-fourths of our students pass the test the first time taking the test.  Usually, by the time the students had exhausted all of their opportunities to re-take the test prior to graduation night, most finally earned a passing score, thus earning their diploma.

ddndiplomaartTwo days ago, the governor of Georgia signed into law House Bill 91.  Today, I was in the front office of our school.  A young man entered the building looking to fill out the paper work so that he could get his diploma.

Several years ago, he was one of my students. He did not pass all of his graduation tests. The fact he had poor attendance, did little in class when he did come to school is the reason enough he did not pass the test. Perhaps it was also because he was expelled from our high school for having a firearm on school property. It may have also been because when he returned, he refused to participate in the tutoring sessions that were held before school, during the day, and after school.

At the same time this young man was seeking to “get his diploma,” a mother was also in the office.  She began to tear up as she told me of the struggle her daughter had passing the graduation test. But perseverance and years of studying paid off as she finally passed the test and EARNED her diploma.

Now that the state no longer requires high school students to pass a test, we will be able to hand out more diplomas to those who want to “get” a diploma. We will offer credit recovery, upgrade, Saturday school, and retests. It amazes me how anyone today can attend high school and not get a diploma.

Consider the cases of three types of students — the high school valedictorian who worked hard and excelled, the student whose mother told me tried two years to finally pass the GHSGT and this young man who came into the office because of House Bill 91. Now, they all can proudly display the exact diploma.

Somehow, in my mind I just can’t see the justice.

As I monitored the AJC today, breaking news was announced, “Jury finds 11 APS educators guilty of conspiring.”

According to the AJC: “A racketeering indictment could mean a 20-year prison sentence. The other felonies carry prison sentences of as much as five and 10 years each.”

I find it ironic that two days after the state Legislature passed HB 91, these 11 educators were found guilty.

This is April 1, 2015.

All of this is part of an April Fool’s Day joke, right?

Reader Comments 0

33 comments
Lisa Doyle
Lisa Doyle

My son and I haven't heard from them neither and he signed the petition. He was in INP classes and passed all his grades and credits. So what can he do. So Please help Alex! !! He deserved a diploma hardly miss a day in school.Good students.

Britt4634
Britt4634

The test was designed to be passed by idiots. I recently graduated high school. Georgia has a horrible education system. 

jerryeads
jerryeads

As our anonymous teacher wrote, it's hard to imagine an 80-item test could be a fair and accurate measure of 12-13 years of schooling. In addition to being a somewhat arbitrary and tiny sampling of an ENORMOUS domain of knowledge, the test also had something in common with the space program: Low bid. For those students with a level of performance anywhere near the pass-level of the test, we'd be just as well off throwing darts blindfolded. Or just flip a coin. That's how accurate these tests were.


Our problem is that through almost fifty years of minimum competency testing in this country, we have lost just about all trust in our teachers to properly judge the capacities of their students. Indeed, there are some who might not deserve that trust. Many more do. But that's a problem to be solved by better development by the universities and more careful selection by the districts (and better pay and conditions so more great people become teachers), not bad testing.


There are likely many of those 9,000 kids who did everything they should have done, had good teachers who judged their efforts well, yet for any number of reasons could not pass the tests. No doubt, as noted by the teacher, there are students who did not do much of what they should have done during their 12-13 years of schooling. In those cases, the school district perhaps should do what they would have done without the test.


The point is that MANY students who could not pass this arbitrary, poorly-made test deserve that diploma. They are far more important to society than the few who do not. The deserving ones are being held back unjustly. The lazy ones won't succeed anyway. And maybe it's time to return to offering multiple diplomas. One size never has, never did, and never will fit all.

MidGaRetiree
MidGaRetiree

My children were required by law to take and pass the GHSGT in order to graduate.  That was the law in place at the time.  They passed the test.  To go back now and tell those that did not or could not pass the test that all they have to do is go to the school and apply for their diploma minimizes the hard word that my children and hundreds of thousands of other children did.  Admittedly I haven't read the new law to see what it requires but I hope it is more than just filling out an application for a diploma.  I may not like a rule but you play by the rules in place at the time.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@MidGaRetiree


"I may not like a rule but you play by the rules in place at the time." 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


 Stereotypical thinking.  Not necessarily, if later, you come to understand that the "rules" were faulty to begin with and that many lives were damaged through a faulty high school graduation test.  You care more about those lives, than about the "rules."

AhmirHaddad
AhmirHaddad

And yet, when someone EARNS a job or a promotion or admission to college but do not receive it because it is given instead to someone who did NOT earn it, we call it "Affirmative Action" and pretend it's not unfair.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Let's give the HSGT to our state leaders, and publish the results.  Because, if they really learned the stuff, they should easily pass.  It would be interesting.  And, no excuses!  With most of them having post-graduate education, they should do well.


In all, it doesn't matter what any of us think.  The legislature doesn't care what the common citizen thinks.

hssped
hssped

In my world it was the functioning mildly retarded students that suffered most from the GHSGTs.  My students never made stellar grades, but they did pass their tests and it was on their own accord.  I did not modify their tests for them. This was back in the days when we had two diploma tracks.  They were on the vo-tech track  (and I wish they'd bring that back). 


They were good kids with low IQs.  That is how they were born.  They worked hard and they always gave 100%.  A couple just couldn't pass certain graduation tests and, even after multiple tries, weren't granted a waiver.  They couldn't move on.   This will set them free.  


Also...true story...two years ago  I gave a graduation test (math) to a man that graduated in 1990.  He earned all his credits, walked on stage, and thought he'd graduated.  He had a job with the sheriff's dept.  They called him in one day and were going to fire him because they said he'd lied on his application that he'd graduated.  He had no idea that he had not graduated, I mean, his transcripts showed that he earned the credit, he walked, he had a diploma.  After further investigation, they did not fire him, but he was "on leave" until he could pass the test.  The testing coordinator had to get one of those tests from 25 years ago and I administered it.  It took him two times, but he passed.  He was in the testing room with seniors that were doing fall GHSGT retakes.  I know he was embarrassed but he shouldn't have been.  To me he was a very brave man.  

hssped
hssped

@class80olddog @hssped


I know what you mean and I agree with you.  It should mean something.  However....consider it from the other side.....


The vo-tech track consisted of algebra I broken down into 2 years and then a 3rd year of applied geometry.  Science also was 3 years and included physical science (1 sem basic physics & 1 sem of really basic chem), bio and then the student could choose the 3rd year.  English was 4 years but the vo-tech English included more technical writing and life skills writing (apps, resumes, etc) than research papers.  No foreign language was required.  History was the same...3 years.  These students took a concentration of electives in whatever area they liked.  Options included construction, auto repair, computers, childcare, healthcare, etc.  


It really was NOT a case of just show up and breathe.  I would not advocate for something like that. It was a real diploma with real classes that had to be passed.  I taught the resource math and collabed in the other math classes.  I held their feet to the fire.  I did not give grades away, EVER. The graduation test was the great equalizer....if I gave my students A's and they miserably failed the GHSGT then I would be held accountable.    I did give some of my students F's.   And believe me, it is a fight to give a kid an F.  


The vo-tech diploma of years past was a good alternative track for those that were not born with the IQ to go to college and be successful with that level of academia.  They could all read.  All were able to pass the DMV test and get licenses.   Kids that fall into the MID category can and want to be productive members of society.   It was very sad when they couldn't pass certain tests.  Most of the time it was history because of all the specific dates involved.   After four years of school they just couldn't remember tiny details from years past. 


By the way...some spec ed students do get a SPED diploma and it does mean that all they did was show up.


And woe to the spec ed students today with our one-size fits all diploma. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@hssped  Again, I go back to my question "What should a HS diploma mean?"  If it just means you went to school for four years but really did not learn anything, then by all means give everyone a diploma.  Does it mean "I tried my best"?  Or does it mean that certain minimum qualifications have been met?  As a businessman, I want the HS diploma to mean something, that the person can read, write and do simple arithmetic. (I most explicitly want them at least to be able to read the warning signs that say "Danger - you may be killed if you open this electrical box").


If you want the SPED students to get a "Diploma" - fine - create a "special" diploma that tells people exactly what they did - they tried hard but they are not up to the same standards that other diploma holders are.


I am not saying that these are not good kids, but a diploma should MEAN something.  If these kids go to med school and can't pass their exams, are you going to give them a Medical License?  Or an engineering license?

popacorn
popacorn

@hssped 

'They were good kids with low IQs.  That is how they were born.'

Slippery slope. 

hssped
hssped

@popacorn @hssped


I know, but in the old days they wouldn't have had to finish high school to be able to get a job at the local factory, save enough money for a down payment on a house, and be a productive member of society.  And unless you got into a deep conversation you'd not know their IQ was low.  


You are right....slippery slope....standards change....life marches on and machines do most of the factory work now.   I don't know what the answer is but I know that my heart breaks for some of the kids I teach.  Most are sweet and precious and would be loyal employees until their dying day. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

The teacher: "Although I had a hard time believing a test consisting of somewhere around 80 questions, covering three years of course work, could adequately and accurately assess whether a student deserved a diploma, I supported the testing."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Teaches one never blindly to support anything.  According to test experts, the test was faulty.  The masses of students who did not receive their high school diplomas based on a faulty exit test, should be able to have that wrong corrected now.  Your small sample of three variations of students fails to cover adequately the 9,000 students' individual cases, affected by the faulty test.  Better late than never to right a wrong.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Our company requires a diploma - but also requires that the application be filled out in our office - therefore a person who can't read or write cannot take it home to someone else to fill out.  And we no longer allow just HS graduates in managerial positions - you have to have a four-year degree - to make sure you can read and write a comprehensible report, you know.

Kaytee
Kaytee

I TOTALLY SUPPORT THIS NEW LAW! One test should not determine whether a student receives their diploma.  If that student received passing grades on class, home and project assignments and in-class tests...AND the school promoted said student from one grade to the next THEN that is enough.  Diploma earned in my eyes.  Everyone does not test well.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Kaytee  "AND the school promoted said student from one grade to the next THEN that is enough.  Diploma earned in my eyes."

So you might as well give anyone a diploma, because the schools are filled with 10th graders reading at 2nd grade levels because the schools "socially promoted" them.


And for businesses, if schools won't maintain graduation standards, then businesses will have to start testing for knowledge before hiring.  That is the way it has to be.

GREYGHOST
GREYGHOST

Does anyone know the status of Anthony Tremayne Stokes' diploma ?

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

My feeling continues to be this.


I refuse to support passing a single test to be able to graduate high school, which encompasses four years of learning, four years of grades, four years of a supposed quality curriculum, and four years of teachers.  


I feel sorry for this teacher because there really is no win-win here.   Some kids like the one this teacher refers to, should not have been allowed to graduate.  But there are others who may have done well in school but are not good test takers.    If those students couldn't pass the test, doesn't it say more about the quality of the education they were getting than whether or not they should have been required to pass an exit test in the first place?


By enacting HB 91, I think you're damned if you and damned if you don't.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@living-in-outdated-ed " I refuse to support passing a single test to be able to graduate high school,"


So what would you suggest?  Teachers' grades are obviously not the answer. Students are passing courses in English without knowing how to read and write.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@class80olddog @living-in-outdated-ed then that is the fault of the administrators.  No teacher should pass a student on that basis.  I remember tutoring a HS Junior who read at a third grade level.   Unacceptable.

 One solution should be to stop social promotion in school and make  it mastery-based promotion.  I just don't think your schooling success should be boiled down to one exam. I feel the same way about standardized testing and college admissions, but that is off-topic and requires a more substantive discussion.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@living-in-outdated-ed @class80olddog  "One solution should be to stop social promotion in school and make  it mastery-based promotion. "


Yea, the legislature passed a law outlawing social promotion years ago, but it left a loophole for the principals that they use.  They CHEAT every day and it is legal cheating and no charges can be filed.  If they made it a law to retain kids who had not mastered the subject matter, the failing schools would be failing a LOT worse.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @living-in-outdated-ed There really isn't an answer. In DeKalb, if you show up occasionally you will probably pass.  It's not right to give them the same diploma you give to real students. If you outlaw social promotion you will get 16 year olds in the 6th grade - will you provide student parking for junior high?

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

Yep, we just devalued a Georgia HS diploma.  [Sarcastic Font]  Why don't we just give everyone a certificate of attendance? 

read this
read this

The biggest SCAM in this Country right now is the EDUCATION SYSTEM....It just funds educators pay and retirement, education book companies, sports venues and does nothing to insure that the Graduates (suckers) obtain a career job. Basically a Diploma is not worth the paper that it is written on....The College of Hard Knocks could be an alternative. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@read this  Wait until these kids get to the work force - then the School of Hard Knocks begins!

jw-abravesfan
jw-abravesfan

If the student didn't pass his classes, he wouldn't qualify for this program. I thought all other graduation requirements had to be in place and not banking the passing scores was the only holdback. If you or any other teacher at your school gave him a passing grade in a required class that he really failed, it's your bad. You enabled him and he's just cashing in. Don't enable.

Starik
Starik

What school districts did the 9,000 attend?  Which high schools?

anothercomment
anothercomment

The biggest joke is that this state only has one graduation and diploma track and it is called College Prep. That shows how out of touch and F'd up our legislature is. We need at least two graduation tracts with one being a real Votech track where juniors and seniors go to actual Vo tech schools 1/2 day jr. And sr. Year so they end up with a 1 year VO tech certificate or 1/2 of an associates. Degree complete at graduation. NOt even 1/2 the population is 4 year college material.

When are folks in Georgia going to realize you can not pound a square peg into a circle or triangle into a circle, etc...

We need small one high school districts, not 50k to 100k districts. That can't react to the local community. Districts that span 70 miles North to South have too much cultural difference to be in one district. All Districts should be the size of Decatur, Marietta or Buford City. People do not commute 70 miles each day for a job, why should school children be in a school district that spans that distance, that is technically out of Federal commuting range. If you have to move over 59 miles doe a job

2-3 one high school districts can share a votech high school.

The current one diploma track does not work.

felito
felito

If you do not pass the necessary tests, you do not deserve the diploma.  Handing out diplomas to everyone who wants one devalues the diploma as well as the effort of those who earned it.  Social promotion is corrosive and damaging to all.

felito
felito

If you do not pass the necessary tests, you do not deserve the diploma.  Handing out diplomas to everyone who wants one devalues the diploma and the effort of those who earned it. Social promotion is corrosive and damaging to all.