More teens drop out, take GED

Letting high-school-age teens take the GED encourages dropouts, some economists and educators fear. A quarter of GED test-takers are 16 to 18 years old, reports the Washington Post. They’re passing up a high school diploma for a much less valuable credential: GED holders earn as little as dropouts who didn’t pass the test and very few go on to earn a higher degree.

“We are making it easy for them to make a mistake,” said James Heckman, a Nobel-Prize winning economist at the University of Chicago.

If cognitive skills were enough, people who demonstrate high school equivalence by passing the GED would perform equally well in the workplace or in college, he said. Instead, dropping out of high school usually portends a lifelong pattern of dropping out, he said. Studies shows high school dropouts have higher rates of job turnover, college attrition, turnover in the military and even divorce, compared with those who stuck it out in high school.

“Sitting in school and showing up on time and doing in school what people ask you to do — those are useful, if dull, tedious traits to have,” Heckman said.

The GED isn’t easy: To pass, test takers must outperform about 40 percent of graduating seniors. It’s being revised to conform to Common Core Standards, which is expected to make it harder.

A high school diploma at 106

Fred Butler quit school in ninth grade, working full time to support his mother and five younger siblings. He married and raised five children, served in the Army in World War II and worked for the city water department in Beverly, Massachusetts.  The 106-year-old man received an honorary high school diploma, but worries that he didn’t actually earn it, reports AP. He really is an old timer.

Cutting to the core on scores

In the era of Common Core State Standards, all high school graduates are supposed to be ready for college or careers. That means the new tests must measure grade-level readiness in every grade, writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Setting cut scores — how good is good enough? — will be difficult.

State officials fear “soaring failure rates, and not just among the poor and dispossessed,” Finn writes.

. . .  about half of eighth graders with college-educated parents fail to clear the “proficient” bar on NAEP. If (as mounting evidence suggests) “NAEP proficient” is roughly equivalent to “college ready,” and if the new assessments hew to that level of rigor and honesty, many millions of American youngsters will be found unready—and millions more will learn that they’re not on track toward readiness. Such a cold shower should benefit the nation over the long haul, but in the short run, it’s going to feel icy indeed.

Finn favors setting multiple passing levels, such as NAEP’s advanced, proficient and basic.  And, at least in the transition period, states will need to offer two levels of high school diploma rather than expecting everyone to meet the college-ready level.

He raises more questions about how Common Core testing will work. Will colleges and employers accept young people who’ve passed these tests as “ready” for college-level classes and skilled jobs? Does anyone know how to define “career readiness?” Will the GED be aligned to CCSS tests? What about credit-recovery programs?

In Getting Ready for Common Core Testing, Diane Ravitch posts a quiz question that a reader’s seven-year-old son got wrong.

Kings and queens COMMISSIONED Mozart to write symphonies for celebrations and ceremonies. What does COMMISSION mean?

A. to force someone to do work against his or her will
B. to divide a piece of music into different movements
C. to perform a long song accompanied by an orchestra
D. to pay someone to create artwork or a piece of music

It’s not clear who wrote the quiz or whether the second graders has read a story about Mozart. But I have to agree with the boy’s parent: Expecting second graders to understand “commission” (or “symphonies” with “movements”) is “nutso.”

Teachers are test experts, writes Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students in New York City.

A large part of my job entails assessing the progress and motivation of my students. And I do, in fact, write tests. I’d argue that my tests are far better than those designed by the city or state. This is at least partially because I cater my tests to the needs and abilities of my students and give them as my students need them, not on wholly arbitrary dates determined by the Board of Regents.

New York City teachers are sent to different schools to grade exams, so they won’t inflate their students’ scores, Goldstein writes. “If I can’t be trusted to design tests and I further can’t be trusted to grade them, I ought not to be teaching. If the state feels that we teachers are so incompetent and untrustworthy it ought to fire us all en masse.”

EEOC: Requiring diploma may violate disabilities act

Requiring job applicants to have a high school diploma may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. From the Washington Times:

The “informal discussion letter” from the EEOC said an employer’s requirement of a high school diploma, long a standard criterion for screening potential employees, must be “job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Employers could run afoul of the ADA if their requirement of a high school diploma “‘screens out’ an individual who is unable to graduate because of a learning disability that meets the ADA’s definition of ‘disability,’” the EEOC explained.

While the letter doesn’t carry the force of law, employers can’t afford to ignore it, labor lawyers say. I doubt “help wanted” ads will say: “High school diploma required, unless you have a learning disability.” Perhaps they’ll be allowed to say “high school diploma preferred.”

Employers don’t like to hire dropouts — even those who’ve earned a GED — because they fear they’re unable to work within a system.

Some fear more high school students will drop out if they see employers no longer require a diploma for entry-level jobs.

Hawaii adopts dual diploma tracks

Hawaiia is raising graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2018, but also creating a dual-track system:  Students will be able to opt for a less demanding diploma, the state board of education has decided. (The whole state is one school district.)

The “college and career ready” diploma will require students to complete two lab sciences, algebra 2 or an equivalent math course and a senior project.

Another track is designed for students who may not be interested in higher-level math or lab science, and so requires fewer math courses but still mandates that students take algebra 1 and biology to graduate.

Hawaii’s public schools are not very good, notes the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  The state superintendent pledges to start working in elementary school to prepare students for higher graduation standards.

NYC: 23% are college or career ready

Only 23 percent of New York City students are ready for college or careers, according to state data, reports the New York Times. That doesn’t include special education students. Other big cities in the state are doing even worse: Only 5 percent of Rochester students did well enough on state exams to be considered college and career ready. Statewide, 41 percent of students test as college or career ready.

New York’s Board of Regents may require schools and districts to report the college-ready rate as well as the graduation rate, said Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

The move parallels a decision by the Regents last year to make standardized tests for third through eighth graders more difficult to pass, saying that the old passing rates did not correlate to high school success.

“With three through eight, we ripped the Band-Aid off,” Dr. Tisch said in an interview last week. “The thing we said then, in looking at the business world, is that if you sit on this, you become the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates. We need to indicate exactly what it all means, especially since we’ve already said that college-ready should be the indicator of high school completion.”

I admire her honesty. But is it really possible to make “college-ready” the standard for a high school diploma? Without fudging on what it takes to be college ready?

Statewide, 77 percent of New York students graduate from high school. Students must score a 65 on four of the state’s five required Regents exams to earn a Regents diploma. Starting next year, they’ll need to a 65 on all five.

Using data collected by state and community colleges, testing experts on a state committee determined last year that a 75 on the English Regents and a 80 on the math Regents roughly predicted that students would get at least a C in a college-level course in the same subject. Scores below that meant students had to often take remediation classes before they could do college-level work.

. . . In New York City, roughly 75 percent of public high school students who enroll in community colleges need to take remedial math or English courses before they can begin college-level work.

The Regents may raise graduation requirements to include four years of math and science. Another possibility is raising the passing score on high school exams to 75 in English and 80 in math, the college-ready level.

At the same time, the Regents are considering letting students substitute foreign language, economics or art — or a vocational skills test — for one of the five required Regents exams in math, English, science, global history and American history.

The state also could grant flexibility to districts to give credits to students who demonstrate competency, based on “examination or online course work,” in addition to “seat time.”

Exit exam axed for special ed students

Special education students won’t have to pass an exit exam to get a high school diploma in California under a budget deal cut by legislators.  Some Democrats had wanted to drop the exam for all students.

Parents of special education students are divided on the issue, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Some say their children are just as smart as nondisabled students and should not be held to lower standards. However, others argue the test is unfair for kids with certain disabilities who repeatedly failed the test and were consequently denied a high school diploma.

California’s exam is a four-option multiple-choice test that requires a 60 percent score to pass the English Language Arts and 55 percent for the math portion. The hardest questions cover 10th-grade English and eighth-grade math, which includes algebra.  By guessing on the harder questions, students with middle-school English skills and elementary math skills should be able to pass.

Students who pass their courses but can’t pass the exam can be offered a completion certificate or a “special” diploma. Most special education students can pass the exam — in the San Jose area, nearly half pass on their first try in 10th grade. To offer them an easier alternative does them no favors.

Finishing high school at 83

At the age of 83, Frank Ganz has passed algebra — with an A — to earn his high school diploma. Ganz starting cutting school in eighth grade. It was the Depression and working was his priority. He dropped out in ninth grade and forged his birth certificate to enlist in the Navy at 16.  When he got back from service, he got a job, married and fathered four children.  From the San Jose Mercury News:

“I always told my grandchildren ‘Make sure you graduate high school,’ ” said Ganz, who ran an auto parts store in Los Gatos until his retirement. “But inside it always burned that I didn’t finish. I was always embarrassed. When my grandchildren started going off to college, I made up my mind. I said ‘I’m going to do it.’ “

Unwilling to settle for a GED, Ganz enrolled in an adult ed program that let him qualify for a diploma. It took him five years to earn the credits with help from a math tutor. Now Metropolitan Adult Ed — “It’s never too late” is the motto — wants Ganz to come back as an American history tutor. He knows it because he’s lived it.

Smart time: Charter schools teach jail inmates

Charter schools in jails are helping inmates, reports AP.

The Gordon Bernell Charter School at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque and the Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco have turned their state laws on charter schools into opportunities to grant high school diplomas — rather than GEDs — to jail inmates regardless of their age.

Both charters also teach character and decision-making.

All teachers at Gordon Bernell agreed student discipline was the least of their problems. The school has a zero-tolerance policy, so no drugs, no violence and no gangs, or they’re out of the program.

Among other things, jail is boring. In my newspaper days, I visited a program designed to teach responsible fatherhood to minimum-security inmates, many of whom were in for domestic violence. The men begged the warden for more educational programs.