A Diploma’s Significance

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Sep
  • 11
  • 2006

What does a diploma mean? Is it such a huge accomplishment to graduate from high school? Upon graduation, does anyone really care what your GPA was or how many AP classes you took or how often you cut 6th and 7th periods? Is high school simply a gateway to college? Or should high school be about preparation for any kind of life beyond the world of education? How does a diploma fit into that scheme of things?

An earlier posting about the CAHSEE saw a record number of comments. Through that discussion, a point about differentiating diplomas came up. My logic is this:

  • Student A busted her butt to get the highest grades possible, filled her schedule with challenging classes all four years, and really pushed herself;
  • Student B slid past, earned the bare minimum grade to get the course credits and/or proceed to the next leveled class where applicable, cut class just infrequently enough to stay out of court, and honestly learned very little throughout her high school years.

Both of these students would receive the exact same diploma. What does that say about the significance of the diploma? If administrators and teachers work so hard to create special programs in order for seniors to earn the credits they need for graduation, what does that say about the credits required for graduation? If they can be made up at the last minute, how rigorous can they be?

A diploma has no significance but to those students earning one or not. And even for those students, that significance is short lived. Upon entering their next phase of life–college, a job, a family, politics, lute playing–the value of their diploma will fade quickly.

Should we have different diplomas in order to signify the path taken to graduation? High schools don’t need to place a value on the differing levels of diplomas granted; colleges and society will do that. But shouldn’t there be some way to acknowledge that not everyone’s high school career is equal? Yet don’t we suggest equality when we pass off the same exact form to all graduating seniors?

And remember…

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