Graduation Rates Not Improving in Many States
> 8/2/2007 10:13:04 AM

While the No Child Left Behind has succeeded in highlighting the importance of the often unsatisfactory math and English proficiency of American students, most states have not seen what one would assume to be a complimentary benefit: increasing high school graduation rates. The chairman of the House of Representatives' education committee suggests that our standards for gaguing success should be expanded and refined to reflect the complexity of the issue they address.

With the national graduation rate hovering around 70% and only 8 states over 80%, asking each to name 95% as a realistic goal, even after allowing for a decade of progress, seems unrealistic. Still, the law allows states to set their own goals and self-report their progress, and as a result, some states have set their ideal rates below 60% and naming an improvement of even .1% as satisfactory. Granting individual states such a degree of leverage in creating their own goals seems appropriate, given the disparate makeup and education trends across our country. But this policy carries the potential to undermine the very concept of a program with the ultimate goal of improving scores nationwide. Teachers report being forced to pass students they deem to be failing, all in the name of keeping performance up to par. This issue cuts to the heart of debate about NCLB - are we better preparing our students or simply narrowing our focus, even to the point of manipulating stats and methods to avoid reprisal?

When a report by the Department of Education notes that "several states say that any progress at all — even just one more diploma — is good enough," policy needs to be reconsidered. In this light, the suggestions raised by Representative George Miller, one of NCLB's chief drafters and proponents, seem reasonable. Higher test scores countered by hovering graduation rates further the perception that students are being primed to perform up to set standards on these tests and little else. Miller believes that graduation rates should be a crucial element of the success equation - and he is right. He also believes that schools should receive credit for children who pass AP exams, thereby transferring greater focus toward those students who do register above-average performance levels.

Critics state that complicating the means of measurement will only allow schools and teachers a greater opportunity to shift the blame for low performance away from themselves and muddy the larger picture. As evidence they point to the fact that the NEA, often decried as a self-interested, counter-productive organization looking to maintain the mediocre status quo, supports these multiple measures. Miller also urges the school system to experiment with merit-based pay, an idea which will certainly not endear him to the crucial teacher's union constituency. A more detailed knowledge of the specific reforms he advocates is needed in order to make a decision.

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