There is, apparently, no end to the way schools can misuse standardized test scores.

A novel abuse just occurred at two California high school, where students last year were given identification cards and homework planners in one of three colors, based on how well they did on standardized tests.

According to the Orange County Register, a black ID card — indicating the highest scores — earned a student special privileges and perks, such as free admission to home sporting events at Kennedy High School in La Palma and discounts to school dances and at local businesses, it said. The poor kids with the white cards, indicating the lowest scores, got zilch though and were required to stand in their own line in the cafeteria at lunch. You can’t make up this stuff.

Cypress High School in the same district had the same type of color-coded test-based ID card policy, though the perks were different and so were the colors.

After news of the “incentive programs” was recently published in the Register, the school district reconsidered and issued a release saying the color-coded cards and homework planners would be replaced with uniform items. (See release announcing the change in policy below.)

But the change wasn’t made before the principal of Cypress High, Ben Carpenter, defended the system to the Register, saying that the program amounted to an incentive that had motivated students to do better on standardized tests.

“We have seen tremendous results, and the kids love it,” he was quoted as saying by the Register. “It’s the least discriminatory thing we do; anyone is eligible to get a gold card. It’s not based on race, GPA, whether the student is an English learner. It’s not based on anything other than how hard you work to learn the material in the classroom and how well you’ve performed in this classroom.”

Others didn’t agree. They said, with good reason, that some students — such as English-language learners, or those with learning disabilities, or kids who have test anxiety — might have seen a program that gives kids perks based on test scores as discriminatory.

Carpenter didn’t do a study to figure out if it really was the colored ID cards that caused test scores to rise, but, hey, facts don’t always matter these days in the era of test-based school reform. He said kids realized they could “get something” if they did well on the tests.

What a great lesson. Get a high test score and get a treat.

Behold where standardized test based reform is taking us.

The release announcing the end of the color-coded incentive program said:

The Anaheim Union High School District’s primary objective is supporting student learning and ensuring that we are acting in their best interests by providing an environment that encourages all to grow and excel.

We also believe it is important to acknowledge and celebrate our students’ successes, be it in the classroom, onstage, on the playing fields, or in the community. The incentive programs at two AUHSD campuses were implemented with the best intentions. They were designed to support and encourage students to do their best on a state test they are mandated to take, but which does not directly impact their academic success in school.

We know that the excellent work our teachers and support staff do every day on behalf of students is what prepares them to be successful in life, whether it be college or a career.

Yet, even with the best intentions, we recognize that innovative programs sometimes have unintended consequences that may impact some of our students. Although many of the students and parents on the two campuses are very proud of the program, we recognize that some students have negatively interpreted some components of the program. Therefore, we are modifying some aspects to address those concerns and ensure that all students feel supported on campus.

Students will no longer carry color-coded binders or cards. Cypress High School and Kennedy High School will provide uniform binders and uniform school ID cards for all students, at no cost to them. The school ID card is used for identification purposes and for purchases and services on campus, including checking out books and buying lunch.

In addition, the privileges that are of a public nature, such as faster lunch lines, will no longer be in place.

However, because we believe having incentives can appropriately motivate students, we will develop another system for them to access the incentives. This is similar to acknowledging students for their participation in athletics, performing arts, extra-curricular activities, and community involvement.

We hope the community will continue to support our students and schools as we work through this issue. We are taking the concerns seriously, and regret any negative feelings the incentive program has caused some of our families.”


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