Not a Trophy

Todd Jones thinks that a diploma is a trophy, and he’s wrong.

The most-talked-about decision of the State Board of Education last week concerned the setting of cut scores for two math tests on which scores had come in lower than expected.

As Patrick O’Donnell’s article for The Plain Dealer reports, Jones, the Board’s leading conservative, derided the lowering of cut scores as the product of what he called “the trophies-for-all movement.”

But a high school diploma is not a trophy: not literally, not figuratively.  A trophy is a recognition of exceptional achievement, and a high school diploma isn’t: it’s a statement that a school system judges a student to have accomplished what students are expected to accomplish in high school. It’s a credential, not an honor.

That’s why we call a graduation ceremony a “commencement”: the awarding of the diploma is a recognition that the student is ready to “commence” getting on with his or her life.

Reasonable people hold many different viewpoints on what we should expect of a high school graduate. Some argue that all graduates should be college-ready, which implies that all students should go to college. That doesn’t match my experience–not as a student, not as a parent, and not as a teacher. And yet, it seems undeniable that graduates will need to know and be able to do more and different kinds of things in the future than in the past.

The task of K-12 education is neither to prepare all students for careers nor to prepare them for college: it’s to prepare them to do whatever they are capable of. And that’s not something that’s well decided by politicians or bureaucrats.

Not all should get trophies, but nearly all should get diplomas. And if they don’t, we need to look deeply at the reasons why they don’t. Obviously, diplomas must mean something; but “raising the bar” by insisting on an arbitrary cut score without a clear idea of why, or because the right number of children must fall below that mark, is cruel and counterproductive.

On the State Board of Education, I will advocate for high expectations that are also realistic and fair. That’s a tall order, but it’s one that educators are used to. If it gets done, it will be through thoughtful consideration, not slogans.

This post originally appeared on the website of my 2016 campaign for State Board of Education,

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.