- The national graduation rate for a four-year cohort is now 84% after five years of steady increases, a record high; furthermore, graduation rates for black students and ESL students rose 1.8% in one year, according to new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics.
- However, there is still a great deal of disparity in graduation rates with a 14% gap between graduation rates for Asian and African-American students and a 6% gap between low-income students and the overall class.
- The increase in high school graduation rates doesn't mean, however, that students are prepared for the rigors of college, as the National Assessment for Educational Progress indicates.
National graduation rates continue to improve, but what does that really mean in terms of true educational progress? While the number of students who receive diplomas from public schools each year seems to be an easy calculation, that calculation varies greatly from state to state. Even within states, the definition of the graduation rate can vary from year to year. With no uniform standard and little evidence that students are now better prepared for college, some educators are questioning whether graduation rates are true measures of success.
The focus on graduation rates over the past decade or so has brought a renewed focus on offering equitable opportunities for students, which is a positive result. However, as schools struggle to pull students over the finish line, there is some indication that some schools may not be running the race by the rules. If schools lower the bar or fudge numbers to get results, students will not benefit in the long run.
Perhaps it is time to measure student progress in other ways. Since there is no uniform standard across the states, perhaps students should be measured by more nationally standardized ways such as passage of the Test of Adult Basic Education or ACT WorkKeys as a minimum measure. And the ACT or SAT is often a better measure of college readiness than a diploma. Graduation rates may be the gold standard for now, but with the wide variance in what that means, it may not be the best gold standard for the future.