View From Lodi, CA: What Does The Class of 2002 Know?

According to results from the National Assessment of
Educational Progress, [PDF,
six in 10 high-school seniors lack the most
rudimentary knowledge of American history.

The NAEP announcement could not possibly have taken
anyone by surprise. Education Secretary Roderick Paige
said that he was “shocked, shocked” to learn that no one
knows anything. Paige

that the situation is “intolerable” and
“immediate steps” would be taken by the Department of
Education to remedy the “abysmal” scores on history

Paige`s pronouncement is a dim echo of similar
comments made by state and federal education bureaucrats
for the last three decades. But every year, we graduate
fewer and fewer well-rounded students.

Just the other day, I noticed two high-school
students engaged in an animated discussion. They could
not agree on the answer to the following: “Circle the
one that doesn`t belong: boy friend, girl friend,
mother, grandmother.” They had concluded that “boy
friend” and “girl friend” obviously go together. That
having been decided, they couldn`t determine if “mother”
or “grandmother” was the odd one out.

What does the Class of 2002 know? And what is the
value of a high-school diploma if a senior doesn`t know
the cause of the Civil War?

According to Section 51225.3 of the California
Education Code, graduating students will have taken
courses in American government and civics. Further,
according to the Code, they will have read and will be
able to demonstrate some mastery of:

(a) The

Declaration of Independence

(b) The

United States Constitution
, including the

Bill of Rights

(c) Substantive selections
from the

Federalist Papers

(d) The

Emancipation Proclamation

(e) The

Gettysburg Address


George Washington`s Farewell Address.

Only the smallest percentage of graduating seniors
could speak intelligently about all of these topics. The
majority could give only scant information about one or

History is only one of the subjects where students
come up short. Some graduates will be deficient in math;
others in reading comprehension and still others in
writing skills. Yet all walk away with diplomas.

How many, I wonder, could pass the

General Education Development Test

As farfetched as it may sound, the GED would be a
stretch for many graduates.

To pass the GED, a student must successfully complete
all five parts of the test: Language Arts, Writing,
Social Studies, Science, Language Arts, Reading and

While the Social Studies, Science and Reading are
basic multiple choice comprehension questions that
shouldn`t pose much of a threat, a student still needs
to know how to interpret maps, charts and political
cartoons. Critical thinking skills are required.

Tests on grammar, essay writing and math would prove
more challenging to most students.

Potential pitfalls in grammar include sentence
structure, construction shifts and proper punctuation.
Writing a coherent, grammatically correct essay of 250
would be problematic for some.

For those high-school seniors who struggled with
Math, GED questions relating to geometry, algebra and
data analysis would be difficult.

Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow

Jay P. Greene
, who studies education policy,

that the GED certificate should not be equated
with a high-school diploma. The GED is, according to
Greene, a “test that dropouts can take to be given a
second chance at a formal education.”

Greene referenced studies that show GED holders to be
“statistically indistinguishable” from high-school
dropouts. On the whole, Greene found, GED recipients do
not earn higher wages or do well if they attempt higher

And Greene criticized the GED policy of allowing test
takers to

any of the five tests as many as five times
until they eventually pass.

What Greene did not factor in is that many who
receive their GED are mature adults who have long been
out of the work force or who have other compelling
circumstances which mitigate against them mainstreaming.

I am not suggesting that the GED replace the
high-school diploma. Nor am I encouraging high-school
students to drop out to get a GED.

But if I were an employer, I`d know that an applicant
with a GED could read and understand, could do basic
math and could write a well-organized essay.

I would not necessarily know that if the applicant
had a high-school diploma.

Taking an educated guess, I`ll venture that 25% of
the 2002 graduating class could not pass the GED on the
first go around.

If I`m right, that casts doubt not on the value of
the GED test but on the worth of a high-school diploma.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the

Lodi News-Sentinel