The Lookout

California tells high school color-coded IDs based on test scores not allowed

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

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Students who did not perform well on tests were given white ID cards (Thinkstock)

Is this the modern-day academic equivalent of the Scarlet Letter?

Kennedy High School in La Palma, California gave out IDs and student planners in three different colors to its students based on how well they performed on state standardized tests. The school distributed black and gold cards to students who scored "advanced" or "proficient" on the tests--distinctions that gave them special privileges and discounts at school events and at some local businesses, reports Scott Martindale at the Orange County Register. Students with white cards--more than half of the 2,400-strong student body--had to stand in a separate cafeteria line at lunch and received no special privileges.

The California Department of Education is now intervening, saying the school's policy violates a state law that prevents anyone from publicly releasing a student's standardized test scores. "It's clear—when you see a white card, that inadvertently identifies a student as low-performing. We really urge them to find another way," department spokeswoman Tina Woo Jung told the paper.

"You see a lot of condescending attitudes toward everyone without a black card," Kennedy senior Kiana Miyamoto, who has a black card, told the Orange County Register. "One [International Baccalaureate] student said in class, 'Hey, you're in IB. Anyone who has a white card shouldn't even be in IB.' It's really sad to see people who have the black cards acting this way." Students with white cards told the paper their separate lunch line was much longer than the one for better-scoring students.

Many schools have reward programs for high-achieving students, but those that obviously single out those who don't make the cut tend to attract controversy. In 2009, parents complained about color-coded ID cards based on grade point average in two Louisiana high schools. A policy at a Maryland high school divided the student body into 11 different color-coded groups, including students who took English-as-a-second-language classes, who were forced to wear bright yellow badges. The school reversed the policy after parents and students complained.

Martindale has more interviews with students and parents at Kennedy here.

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