October 7, 2011
LA PALMA, Calif. (KTLA) — School district leaders are eliminating programs at two Orange County high schools that color code student ID cards based on test scores.
At Kennedy High School in La Palma, students currently carry school IDs in one of three colors based on their performance on the California Standards Tests, plus a spiral-bound homework planner covered in a matching color. White signifies lower scores, gold signifies a higher level of achievement and improvement and black is the best all-around, signifying advanced test scores in all subjects.
High ranking color cards give students free admission to athletic events, as well as discounts to school dances and at local businesses. While low ranking card colors require students to stand in a separate cafeteria lunch line and come with no benefits.
But school district officials announced late Thursday afternoon that they have decided to eliminate the color-coding system, turning instead to uniform ID cards and notebooks, and lunch line privileges for all students. The district said in a statement: “We believe it is important to acknowledge and celebrate our students’ successes. The incentive programs at two… campuses were implemented with the best intentions. Yet, we recognize that innovative programs sometimes have unintended consequences that may impact some of our students.”
KTLA spoke to parents and students about the color-coded ID cards. ”It’s segregation between the students, and that’s wrong,” one parent told KTLA.
Students were somewhat divided on the issue. ”I care about my grades and my test scores, and I care about my future, and whenever I get called stupid it puts me down, and it makes me not even want to try,” student Shalie Chudomelka said. ”I think it’s bad,” student David Butler echoed. “I do feel discriminated about it.”
But not everyone felt that the system was all bad. ”If we abolish the gold card system, do we have to abolish sports?” student Alexander Jimenez said, defending the program. “They have varsity, they have frosh-soph. It’s a meritocracy. People are rewarded based on their performance.”
Still, an educational psychologist who specializes in student motivation called the system “one of the worst ideas ever.” UC Irvine assistant professor Anne Marie Conley told the OC Register that the three-tiered system stigmatizes the most academically vulnerable kids — underprivileged minorities, poor students and English learners.
Ben Carpenter, principal at Cypress High School, which now has a similar system, defended the program. He said there was nothing discriminatory about it. ”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,” Carpenter told the OC Register. According to Carpenter, the practice is no different than more traditional displays of achievement such as honor roll, letterman jackets, honor cords at graduation, honor societies, even students walking around school hallways carrying textbooks for honors and college-level Advanced Placement courses.
The California Department of Education told the Register on Tuesday that any program revealing information about how well a student has performed on state tests is a violation of the student’s privacy and should be terminated.