Debra J. Saunders

Besides, it's insulting to assume that minority and poor kids can't pass a basic test. And it's counterproductive to disallow an exit exam because some special-education students can't pass it -- especially when their school districts can issue certificates of completion in lieu of a diploma to students who don't have the capacity to learn basic academics.

In July, Californians likely will see the sad day when the state Board of Education votes to postpone the test as a requirement for graduation for two years. (State law allows the board to vote for one delay only.) Board president Reed Hastings explained that if the requirement begins with the class of 2004 as planned, a horrific 20 percent of graduates won't get diplomas.

His hope is that when the class of 2006 is ready to graduate, as improvements continue, more than 90 percent of the students will pass the test. Those who don't will be able to take the test after they finish school, according to the board, or earn a GED. Students who work hard will graduate with a diploma that tells the world they earned it.

Why not have a two-tiered diploma system -- where students who attended high school and received passing grades could receive a lesser diploma? The fear is that low-performing districts will funnel students into the lower track and condemn poor kids to a third-rate education and second-class sheepskin.

Sort of like what they get now, as advocates have worked to sabotage testing. This is their victory: For one in five graduates of the class of 2004, a California high school diploma will be a cruel hoax.

Debra J. Saunders

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