Record High School Graduation Rate Is Not Meaningful

WSN Editorial Board

The White House announced this past Monday that the high school graduation rate in the United States has hit a new high of 83.2 percent. The statistic continues a trend of rising four-year graduation rates since 2010, when all states adopted the same way of tracking diplomas awarded. Also in the statement was data showing that the graduation rate of every group measured — students of color, those with disabilities, low-income students and English learners — grew in the past year. While these statistics appear promising, there are too many flaws with this measurement, rendering it far less important than officials make it out to be.

Not to equate students with automobiles, but the quality of American cars is not measured by the number produced in a year. Similarly, the number of high schoolers graduating on time is not an accurate measurement of the success of the nation’s education system. Despite the 83 percent of American students receiving diplomas after four years of high school, less than 40 percent are college or career ready, according to the Nation’s Report Card, a reliable test given to 12th graders across the nation. By applauding the recent announcement, politicians are patting themselves on the back but missing the greater picture.

Furthermore, when so much weight is given to graduation rates, district officials will often resort to fraudulent activities to guarantee funding and recognition. Organizations in Chicago discovered last year that the public school district was miscounting dropouts, resulting in inflated graduation rates. Atlanta Public Schools teachers have complained of pressure to cheat the system from senior leaders. In an attempt to swell the number of students who pass, Connecticut was accused of watering down their high school exams to make them easier — and these are not isolated incidents. Investigations have repeatedly shown that grade inflation in American schools is widespread and troublesome to teachers, colleges, employers and even students.

Setting aside the weaknesses of the high school graduation rate, however, the measurement itself is becoming outdated. As the U.S. economy becomes more advanced, future generations will need more qualifications than just a high school diploma to maintain the country’s academic and economic standing. Students are becoming aware that in order to land a decent job, a college degree is required and employers agree. This is why the issue of college affordability has become front and center in the presidential race — a high school diploma is not what it once was, and neither are jobs. Continuing to refer to imperfect high school graduation rates as evidence of a prepared workforce for decades to come would not only be inaccurate, but it also falsely suggests that the nation’s education system is working the way it should.

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