On June 18, lawmakers in Orange County, California, finally voted on a bill that would address a controversial practice by the Anaheim School District. A.B. 166, proposed by Assemblyman Jose Solorio, prohibits school districts from including information about a student’s test scores or grades on identification cards or “any object a student might be required to carry while at school.”
Last fall, for the second year, Anaheim schools were issuing mandated student identification cards that were color coded based on the student’s performance on the previous year’s standardized tests. They even went so far as to issue matching homework planners that students were required to carry with them at all times. Students with black cards scored in the highest percentile; students with orange (“gold”) cards scored average/above average; students with white cards scored the lowest. The distinction did not just stop there: Students with black and orange cards enjoyed special privileges, such as free admission to sporting events and discounts at local businesses. Students with white cards enjoyed no such special benefits, but were made to stand in separate longer lunch lines in the cafeteria.
Initially, school officials rallied behind the initiative, saying the cards were meant to motivate and insisting that students achieved a greater sense of accomplishment. Back in October, the principal of Cypress High School, Ben Carpenter, told TODAY Santa Ana, that they “have seen tremendous results, and the kids love it.” He said, “It's the least discriminatory thing we do; anyone is eligible to get a gold card. It's not based on race, GPA, whether the student is an English learner. ... 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."
The practice has caused outrage among parents and students alike. Kiana Miyamoto, a Kennedy high school senior, told the Orange County Register, “You see a lot of condescending attitudes towards everyone without a black card. ... One IB 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 black cards acting this way.”
Carol Lopp, the mother of another Kennedy high school student, complained to the school after she heard that a school administrator was jokingly encouraging female students to go to school dances with students who had black I.D. cards rather than white ones. “You don’t understand, everyone was laughing,” was the school’s response when she told them they were bullying and degrading students.
Soon after the complaints began to flood in, the schools suspended the practice, saying, “The incentive programs at two AUHSD campuses were implemented with the best intentions. They were designed to support and encourage students to do their best on a state test they are mandated to take. Yet, even with the best intentions, we recognize that innovative programs sometimes have unintended consequences.”
California’s Department of Education says that student privacy laws concerning test scores “do not have an enforcement mechanism,” and the state will only intervene if the school district does not address parents’ complaints. With the fear that the practice could return, and with no legislation prohibiting any similar policies in the future, Assemblyman Jose Solorio proposed bill A.B. 166 to strictly regulate behavior that is “embarrassing and demoralizing” to students. The bill passed with a 34-2 vote, though it is in the Senate now as it undergoes amendments.
This vote comes in the midst of what seems to be a nationwide contestation of the negative repercussions of standardized tests. From baffling questions and arduous testing conditions to arbitrary teacher evaluations and stressed students, the pitfalls of standardized tests are becoming the focus of educators and lawmakers alike. Some changes in policy and testing strategies seem to be brewing, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the landscape of standardized testing looks this coming school year.