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Circumstances impact number of seniors earning high school diplomas

By RICHARD SHAW
General manager


Graduates during last years Carbon High ceremonies wait as they anticipate receiving their diplomas. Next year students like them will be eligible for one of two diplomas or a certificate of completion due to laws that the state legislature enacted concerning competency testing.

Matthew Doe is a 20-year-old high school drop out who currently works in the fast food industry in Carbon County.

The young man's prospects of gaining better employment, a full-time job that pays more than minimum wage, hinges almost exclusively on hopes and dreams, rather than on reality.

In reality, full-time positions in the work place in a rural community where coal miners make some of the highest wages are few and far between. And Matthew Doe connot compete with an educated workforce.

The young man's history of problems in school began in the late elementary grades when he began to fall behind in math and science. He read well, actually above his grade level, and he had good writing skills But as his math competency declined, so did his other school work.

In junior high, Matthew Doe was often prodded into doing his home work, but seldom turned the lessons in to the teachers. He felt the work was not good enough for the teachers to see.

The young man progressed through the grades, never getting into real trouble, but always standing on the edge.

In high school, Matthew Doe continued the downward trend. He had liked school through junior high. But high school was a different game.

The teen did poorly in classes, began to sluff and eventually ended up before school officials with his parents for non-attendance.

At that point, the youth found out that a child had to be in school until they were 18 years old under the laws in Utah. He started going to school enough to stay out of a judge's courtroom.

But three months before his 18th birthday in the middle of his senior year.the youth began to be absent a lot.

School officials tried to get him to class, but they and he knew it would take three months for him to be referred to court. By that time, the point would be moot because he would be an adult.

Two days after he turned 18, Matthew Doe quit school. He didn't have enough credits to actually be a junior. He hung around home, working odd jobs and losing employment.

But the habits of non-study and non-commitment caught up with the young man and he was out of a job for some time until he recently acquired his current minimum wage position.

When Matthew Doe quit school in 2003, he was one of two kinds of students attending Carbon High, youth who would get diplomas and teenagers who would not.

The young man was on a path some educators call the "criminal" track because many people who drop out become so frustrated that they turn to a life of crime to survive.

More students like Matthew Doe have come and gone since then. But beginning next year with the graduating class of 2006, there will be a couple of new types of students coming out of high schools in Utah. The new segment won't be drop outs, but some will also not be awarded what has been traditionally known as a high school diploma either. When the graduation line passes through the BDAC next year three kinds of awards will he given to students finishing Carbon High. One will be what has been the basic standard diploma given since the days of early high school development in Utah. Another will be called an alternative completion diploma. And finally some will get a certificate of completion.

Why? Because a number of years ago the Utah State Legislature determined that attending school regularly, participating in class and doing a little homework was not enough to earn a high school diploma in the state. They then set about having designed the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT), or as educators call it "u-biscuit."

UBSCT tests must be passed for traditional students lo earn a high school diploma. Basic skills tested include competency in math, reading and writing. Right now students in the junior ;ind sophomore classes have had the opportunity to take the tests already, and next year, if they haven't passed them already they will have more chances. In fact a student gets five chances over three years to pass the exams.

They can take the tests as early as their sophomore year. The bank of three tests can be separated out, so if a student for example, should pass the reading and writing tests, but fail the math section, they do not have to take the first two again. That student would then have four more chances over the nest two years to take the main section and pass it,

These tests do not take the place of credits, attendance at school, grades or any of the other requirements that are now expected. For a full basic high school diploma all these requirements must still be met.

For the alternative completion diploma, a student will have not have passed all the sub tests of the UBSCT, but must provide documentation that they attempted to take the test least three times or that they participated in an individual education program through the Utah Alternative Assessment. To receive this alternative diploma a student must also have met all the regular requirements just like the student who receives a full diploma.

For a certificate of completion, a student will have to have completed his or her senior year. However they will not have to meet all school district or stale requirements. And as for UBSCT, if they cannot prove they have tried to take it at least three times, this will be the document they receive at graduation.

That means there will be three levels of students coming out of high schools next spring and the new program raises some questions about what could happen.

First, how could this change affect employment for graduates with less than a basic high school diploma?

"If employers start looking at the type of diploma a student receives, it could hurt some graduates," said Carbon School District Superintendent David Armstrong in an interview on Tuesday morning. "That's why we have been focusing so hard on academics. lt's an open ended thing... a persons whole life."

Will students with anything below the basic high school diploma be able to attend college or will they have to lake special courses before they can get in?

"We don't know the answer to that question yet," said Armstrong candidly.

That is a big question that will need to be answered because statistics show that lower levels of education, even generally those with a basic high school diploma, will not be able to survive in the work place of the coming world.

"The average life sustaining job right now requires at least two years of college," says Richard Wood, the testing coordinator for Carbon School District. "We need to focus on standards, to help students that will be going into the economy, particularly in a rural area such as ours, where the possibility of not getting a good job is amplified."

And what about young people like Matthew, who could possibly turn to adult education to finally get through high school, should he want to do that.. Will those students have to pass UBSCT to get a basic diploma?

"That whole issue is still under debate," concluded Armstrong,

And Mathew's future is very much up in the air,

Editors note: This is the first in a series of five stories concerning testing, academics, goals and outcomes in Utah schools in general and in the Carbon School District in particular






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