Don’t lower standards

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By Optic Editorial Board

A state representative from Albuquerque has pre-filed a bill that would make it easier for high school students to graduate from high school, a move that we believe undermines attempts to reform our state’s struggling education system.

According to a report on KRQE-TV, Rep. Mimi Stewart’s bill would establish two kinds of diplomas, the diploma of excellence that is in place right now and a new general diploma. The requirements for the diploma of excellence — which include four years of math and passing the Standards Based Assessment test or otherwise meeting state standards demonstrating that they have acquired the basic knowledge that a high school graduate should have — wouldn’t change.

But obtaining a general diploma would require only three years of math, fewer years of science with a lab component and students wouldn’t have to pass the Standards Based Assessment. Instead, each school district would be allowed to set its own standards to prove students have learned what’s needed to earn a diploma.

Stewart told the TV station that the four-credit math requirement is new, having begun for the class of 2013. She also told the station that the focus of her bill is giving students who don’t pass state-mandated standardized tests a route to graduate that would be established by each district.

It’s unlikely that Stewart’s bill will gain much traction this year. Because it’s a 30-day session, only budget-related legislation and issues put on the agenda by the governor can be taken up. Gov. Susana Martinez’s Public Education Department has already criticized Stewart’s proposal, calling it a cause for concern. In a statement to KRQE, a PED spokesman said, “Today, too many of our high school graduates require remedial courses once in college so lower standards will not help.”

We agree.

A high school diploma should mean something. Specifically, it should mean that a graduate has a basic level of knowledge, and prospective employers along with colleges and universities should be able to rely on that certification.

Dumbing down graduation requirements sends a message to students that it’s OK not to work hard because there will be no consequences, and that has been one of this state’s problems for decades. Allowing each school district to set its own standards for what constitutes proof that students have learned what is required is laughable. School districts want the highest graduation rate possible, giving them an incentive to set low standards.

It’s worth noting that many of the higher graduation requirements in place today were pushed by former Gov. Bill Richardson and his administration as a way to reform the education system. They realized that the bar needed to be set higher to give graduates a better chance of success when they enter college and the workforce.