ANDERSON, SC -- Dr. Jimmy Johnson, principal of Wren High School, told a small gathering of parents and students in September about the new "certificate of mastery" Wren will be offering its students.
Controversial because they are a component of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) , the certificates are meant to raise academic standards. There is debate about that, however, and in areas such as Oregon similar reforms have led to lower test scores.
Johnson said the certificates definitely will be much more important to students than are the current high school diplomas. For example, he said, a student may get a regular diploma at graduation with a D average, but a certificate of mastery would require a 2.5 average.
A representative of Erskine College said colleges would be inclined to prefer a student with the certificate of mastery over one with the regular high school diploma.
Johnson said that, under the Freedom of Information Act, all employers have access to a student's entire high school portfolio or transcript, and the employers, also, would be likely to prefer students who have earned the certificates.
"Cooperative learning" is part of the program. When asked what would happen to a student who had kept a 3.5 grade point average during his high school years but failed the demonstration for his certificate of mastery, Johnson said there would be an "in progress" or "not yet" designation. If the student wished to go ahead and graduate without the demonstration, then he would have to get the regular diploma instead of the certificate of mastery.
When questioned as to where the certificates program had proven successful, Johnson cited Oregon as a national example. He said he has been to Oregon to observe the program, adding that an assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley is from Oregon and said the program is being used successfully there.
Evidently, not all of those involved with education in Oregon share the view that mastery learning and other education reforms have been good for students there. Jo Ann Lisac, from the North Clackamas School District in Oregon, was contacted for comment.
Lisac has just recently resigned her position on the North Clackamas School Board because of her frustration over the effects of OBE on the schools. She said that the state assessments for students in Oregon were released recently, and all scores for all grade levels have dropped. North Clackamas is the 5th largest school district in Oregon.
Johnson said the change in Anderson stems from a 1991 document called the SCANS. SCANS is short for the U.S. Department of Labor document, "Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills."
The changes are the result of South Carolina's School to Work Transition Act, which is based on the SCANS report. -- Reported by Anne Huff.