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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.

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?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.