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SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 - 1991, Diversity & California; Mathematics;
        Literature/Literary Devices: character development, subplot,
        foils, irony, & symbol;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Self-Esteem; Education;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS --- Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Citizenship.

Age: 12+; MPAA Rating -- PG; Drama; 1987; 105 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

Description: Jaime Escalante, a math teacher in the Los Angeles barrio, used strong motivation and innovative teaching techniques to bring academic success to students otherwise expected to do poorly in math. In 1982, an amazing 18 of Mr. Escalante's students passed the Advanced Placement Test in Calculus, many with very high scores. However, their success story was tarnished by charges that 12 of the students had cheated. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) had discovered that the students gave identical answers to one of the few questions they had gotten wrong and that there were unusually high degrees of similarity in their correct answers.

The students denied that they had cheated. Mr. Escalante explained that he had drilled and re-drilled the students in a particular method for solving calculus problems, and that this explained the high degree of similarity in their correct responses. He pointed out that a substitute teacher had been present when the class covered the question for which they had the identical wrong answer. Mr. Escalante accused the ETS of racism.

The ETS could have disqualified the students for cheating. However, given the circumstances, it required only that the students take another test several months later. When retested under strict scrutiny, all 12 of the students passed, again with flying colors. For many years thereafter, Mr. Escalante's students from poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles passed AP Calculus exams in astounding numbers with no hint of cheating.

The movie adopts the students' position that they had not cheated. However, after the film was made, an investigation by a journalist sympathetic to the students developed strong evidence that cheating did, in fact, occur on the question that the students got wrong on the first exam. (For information on the cheating charges, click here.)

Except for supporting the students' claim that there was no cheating on the first exam, the movie is accurate in all important facts with only reasonable compromises to the story-telling art.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Stand and Deliver is inspirational for all students. The performance of disadvantaged students in Mr. Escalante's math program shows what can be done when students are motivated, given confidence, and have an excellent teacher. It shows that with hard work, the barriers of an impoverished background can be overcome. The movie is an excellent example of historical fiction using several literary devices to present a reasonably accurate version of what happened, as understood at the time by the filmmakers. The fact that after the movie was made, an investigation disclosed that some of the facts presented in the film were probably incorrect throws into high relief the role of facts in historical fiction.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students in any subject will be presented with the film's inspirational message. For ELA and Social Studies classes, students will analyze an excellent example of historical fiction. For ELA classes, students will recognize and explain the use of literary devices of character development, subplot, foil, irony, and symbol to elucidate theme. Students will also exercise their writing skills.

Note for ELA Teachers: The ELA lessons for this film are presented through the Discussion Questions below and through TWM's Comprehension Test on Literary Devices in a Work of Historical Fiction which is designed to be a teaching tool as well as an evaluation. This can be used as a homework assignment instead of a test. For an answer key to the Comprehension Test, click here. There is also a brief discussion of the literary elements of the story in the Supplemental Materials.

Possible Problems: Smoking, alcohol use, and allusions to sexuality are shown in the film. There are many incidents of profanity. The film telescopes four years of math study into one year and presents an inaccurate rendition of the facts relating to the dispute with the ETS. These inaccuracies can be corrected with the introduction and post-viewing presentation set out in this Learning Guide.

Jaime Escalante



Before showing the film, tell students that the story told by the movie is true except in a few respects that you'll tell them about at the end of the film. Tell students to watch how one of the characters, a boy named Angel, dresses and to ask themselves, as they watch the film, "What are the movie makers trying to tell us through Angel's clothing?"

Post-Viewing Comments

When the movie is over, tell students that:

    (1) Mr. Escalante worked for six years before the breakthrough 1982 test in which 18 Garfield High students demonstrated that they had mastered calculus. He started by encouraging area middle schools to offer algebra in their eighth and ninth grades to help students acquire the background necessary to understand calculus. He also taught summer school for students who wanted to upgrade their math skills.

    (2) There is strong evidence that some of the students cheated on the first AP exam. Twelve of them used an identical incorrect formula and made an identical mathematical error on one of the problems. The mathematical error was in simplifying a fraction, a task they had performed successfully thousands of times. Years later, in interviews with a sympathetic journalist, two of the students admitted that there was cheating on that one particular question but later withdrew their admissions. However, the students did know their calculus because a few months later when they were tested again under strict scrutiny, all of them passed. Teachers may want to have students read TWM's Stand and Deliver Handout as homework after seeing the movie.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:

      Introduction to the Movie
      Discussion Questions


Additional Student Benefits from
Stand and Deliver:

      More on Literary Devices in
      a Work of Historical Fiction

      Lasting Change Takes
      Preparation to Achieve
      and Effort to Maintain

      Give them the Bird! —Two
      Examples of Ideas Moving Across
      Continents and Over Time

      Get A Taste of Calculus in
      Finding the Area of a Circle

      Did the Students cheat?
      Public Policy and Burdens of
      Proof in Modern Society

      Some Problems With Cheating

Additional Discussion Questions:

      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:

      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

For other movies on the Hispanic experience in the U.S., see A Better Life, Spare Parts, Underwater Dreams, McFarland, U.S.A., For Love or Country — The Arturo Sandoval Story, and West Side Story. Click here for "20 Latino PBS Movies You Can Stream for Free During Hispanic Heritage Month." For college level classes, check out Lone Star.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: "Ganas" (Spanish term for desire in the sense of wanting to do something); low expectations; Advanced Placement Test; barrio, overt racism; covert racism; "ese" (Spanish term for friend or home boy); "gavacho" (Spanish derogatory term for white boy or white man); "burros" (Spanish for mule or a stupid peasant); and "Kemo Sabe" or "Kemo" (the Lone Ranger would refer to his scout, Tonto as Kemo Sabe and, in some of the early episodes, Tonto would refer to the Lone Ranger in the same way; the term was intended to mean "trusty scout" or "trusty friend." There is also a reference to Elizabeth Taylor. She was a beautiful film star in the 1950s and 1960s who had many husbands.


Discussion Questions:

After the class has watched the movie, engage students in a discussion about the movie.

Discussion Questions for Any Class

1.   Assume that the students cheated on Free Response Question #6 on the first exam. How does that fact affect the core messages of the film? Suggested Response: Two core messages of the movie are that: (1) inspired students can achieve wonders if they have teachers who have high expectations and (2) something very good for math education and for the Latino community happened at Garfield High while Mr. Escalante taught there. Whether or not Mr. Escalante's students cheated on one question, they still demonstrated that they had learned calculus: they passed the first examination even though they got the wrong answer on FRQ #6, and they passed the test again when they took it a second time with ETS monitors present. Thus, the evidence indicating that they cheated on FRQ #6 does not negate their achievement in mastering calculus.

2.   Assume that the students cheated on Free Response Question #6. Note that even with the wrong answer on this question, they all passed the test. Note also that if anyone cheats on even one aspect of an AP exam they are normally disqualified from receiving a grade on the test. Should the students have been given a second chance or is this a case of reverse discrimination in which students were treated more leniently because they were members of a minority? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question. A good response will include a mention that it is not fair to students who passed the test without cheating, although this is undercut by the fact that the students got the wrong answer on their cheat. Another point that will be brought up in a good response is that the students had worked hard and passed the test without the benefit of their cheating on FRQ #6.

3.   Mr. Escalante said, "Math is the great equalizer." What he meant by that? Suggested Response: This is a matter of interpretation. Perhaps he meant that the logic of math is the same for all of us, no matter what our background is. Or perhaps he meant that if you can do math your skin color or surname don't matter; you can compete with anyone and get a job.

4. What is revealed about Angel when he bargains with Mr. Escalante for an extra text to keep at home, and how does this incident illustrate one of the key barriers to success facing young people such as Angel? Suggested Response: Angel wants to keep a book at home so he would not be seen by his friends as a serious student who takes a book home every night to study. In gangs as well as in many high school friendship groups in minority communities, academic success is seen as a sign of leaving the circle of camaraderie. It is viewed as disloyalty and as a desire to be a part of the mainstream culture.

Discussion Questions for ELA Classes

5.   The changes in Angel's clothing signify something about his character in a way that is related to one of the themes of the story. What is the change, and how does that change relate to theme? Suggested Response: From the beginning of the film to the end, Angel's clothing is a tip-off to his growing involvement with the class and his diminishing relationship with the gang. At the beginning of the movie he was wearing a hair net. Through the course of the movie, this disappears, and his clothing loses its gang identification. By the end, Angel's clothing was neatly pressed and fashionable, part of the mainstream culture. By the end of the film Angel is willing to make himself vulnerable by taking off his clothes to join the class in their swim. Note also that the clothing and general appearance of the other students becomes increasingly neat and mainstream as the movie progresses.

6. Two of the main characters in the film have foils — minor characters who are different than the main characters in a way that points to theme. Identify the foils and describe how their differences with the main characters point to theme. Suggested Response: The lady who was the head of the math department who doubted that the students could learn calculus and who believed that they had probably cheated was a foil for Mr. Escalante. Angel's gangbanger friend, who didn't try to learn anything and didn't grow out of the gang life, was Angel's foil. He stayed mired in the gang while Angel was able to lift himself out of it.

7.   Assume that the students cheated on Free Response Question #6. There is irony in this. What is the irony, and what type of irony is it, dramatic irony, situational irony, or ironic statement? Suggested Response: First, these students didn't need to cheat. They passed the exam the first time without any credit on FRQ #6 and then they passed a different AP Calculus test when it was given the second time. Second, in their effort to cheat, they got the wrong information and the wrong answer. In other words, the cheating didn't help the students get their passing grades the first time around, and they suffered a substantial penalty by having to take the test again. This is an example of situational irony.

Note for ELA Teachers: The ELA lessons for this film continue in TWM's Comprehension Test on Literary Devices in a Work of Historical Fiction which is designed to be a teaching tool as well as an evaluation. This can be used as a homework assignment instead of a test. For an answer key to the Comprehension Test, click here. There is also a brief discussion of the literary elements of the story in the Supplemental Materials.



Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1. Write a report that may appear in a newspaper on attitudes toward cheating held by your peers. Gather ideas from members of your class and seek a range of responses. Consider the following: cheating can be self-destructive and may lead to diminished self-image; it creates a general atmosphere of distrust; it is unfair in terms of competition and, finally, who wants to live their life knowing that they relied on cheating for what they accomplished?

2. Write an informal account of an individual you know who is capable of academic success but who is not pursuing good grades or even considering going to college. What motivates this person and what help has been offered over time to change his or her direction. You may add what you have done to assist this person. If you choose to write about yourself in this regard, be sure to look deeply into your reasons for failing to pursue academic success.

3. Read the handout about the legal aspects of the case involving ETS and Mr. Escalante's students. Read the information about burdens of proof. Write an expository essay, carefully summarizing the information and determine whether or not you think the Garfield students did, in fact, cheat on the exam.

For additional assignments, click here.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Parenting Points: Point out to your child that the students who may have cheated on one question still passed enough of the test to earn a good grade on the exam. Let them know that, as in most incidences of cheating, the victim is the individual who cheats.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

This Learning Guide was written by James Frieden with assistance from Mary RedClay. It was revised on June 28, 2015.

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