- Despite the national graduation rate's growth to 83.2%, eSchool News reports that a number of factors could prevent the U.S. from hitting its goal of 90% by 2020, with the 2017 Building a Grad Nation report showing just half of states likely to hit that mark.
- Areas of focus where persistent gaps could hinder efforts to reach that goal include low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, English language learners and high schools with low graduation rates, according to eSchool News.
- The publication suggests five policy recommendations to further improve progress: creating high-quality ESSA implementation plans, adopting evidence-based plans for high schools with low grad rates, increasing the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate's uniformity and transparency, requiring states to report extended-year grad rates for students to encourage schools and districts to keep students who are off-track from dropping out, and increasing accountability measures around non-traditional/alternative high schools.
Much has been made in recent years of the nation's progress on its graduation rate, which is at a record high. While those numbers and the efforts made to reach them are laudable, some have also questioned whether the increased focus has led some to game the system.
Most notably, a 2015 NPR investigation cast doubt on progress made, noting that reporters from 14 of its stations, over the course of a year, found that dubious strategies had been used from the district to state level to inflate rates. These ranged from mislabeling students or finding ways to remove them from the books to simply easing graduation requirements.
Policy efforts to improve the graduation rate can also have unintended outcomes. Talk of increasing accountability could potentially lead to more efforts to game the system if high stakes are attached. As incidents like the Atlanta test cheating scandal have shown in the past, the pressure of having employment or potential school closures attached to accountability measures can lead to unfortunate actions if the outcome demanded is unachievable given resource issues and socioeconomic challenges a school or district must contend with.
When considering new accountability measures, policymakers should consider the impact that too-stringent efforts could have on innovation. If educators aren't incentivized to experiment with new models and methods in the classroom, but are rather discouraged from doing so by the potential consequences of failure, it could actually hinder progress in the long run.