High school graduation rise not what it seems

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.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “High school graduation rise not what it seems”

  1. You are 100% correct with the games going on with paperwork. It is pathetic and no one seems to care. Another aspect of phony graduates is the lowering of graduation requirements. In Florida there is a requirement to pass an end of year Algebra 1 exam. Students only have to get 30% correct to pass. In a certain county they only require 30% score in both U.S. History and Biology. My big question is – what is the value of today’s high school diploma?
    In Florida, Superintendents and school board members love reporting their graduation rates.


  2. John: A high school diploma means little today compared with its worth decades ago. By the same token, I question the value of a four-year college degree. Both are former shadows of their past selves. But I doubt anything will change because pressure is on to post ever-higher rates of graduation at all levels to justify the money spent.


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