At first glance, the increase in the on-time high school graduation rate to 83 percent from 79 percent in 2010-11 is great news (“Is the high school graduation rate really going up? Brookings, May 3). But a closer look reveals that it is no time for celebration.
To understand why, it’s necessary to keep in mind how the rate is calculated. It takes the number of students in a school that enters the 9th grade (the cohort) and compares that number with the number graduating four years later. It seems so simple and so fair. But schools have learned how to game the process.
For one thing, they are not supposed to remove a student from the cohort until they receive a request for records from another school. In other words, they are not supposed to count students as transfers when in reality they have dropped out. But schools violate this rule to inflate their graduation rates. They also fail to identify students who are enrolled in adult education, further distorting the data.
Finally – and most egregiously – they resort to credit recovery as a way to make themselves look good. According to the Education Department, 89 percent of high schools offered at least one credit recovery course and 15 percent were in some credit recovery. As a result, some 2 million or more high school students are in credit recovery each year. Credit recovery allows students to get full credit for a semester’s work for a course lasting only one week.
On the basis of the evidence, the real graduation rate may actually be falling – not rising. Only a thorough audit, combined with protection for whistleblowers, can determine the truth.
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