• Joanne Jacobs

Grad rate rises as diploma’s value falls

America’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, yet a high school diploma doesn’t signify college readiness, career readiness or even attendance at school, writes Brandon Wright.

“We’ve simultaneously lowered the bar for high school graduation while pushing for more high school graduates to attend college,” he writes.


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Unprepared students often are left with college debt but no degree — or skills. Half of remedial students never take a college-level course.

Wright proposes telling students the truth about their preparation for the adult world and promoting career and technical education.

He also suggests basing the high school diploma on demonstrated competency, not seat time, or offering different diplomas for students who’ve met academic or vocational criteria. (A “general” diploma for those who aren’t ready for anything will need to be offered too.)

Finally, he warns about evaluating high schools on their graduation rates. “When you condition adults’ livelihoods on whether students walk across a stage wearing a cap and gown, more and more students will do so, regardless of academic accomplishment,” Wright predicts.

Praising high schools for students’ college admission rates also is meaningless. Did they get into open-admission community colleges? Did they enroll? How many passed first-semester classes?

Washington state’s relatively low graduation rate may be explained by higher standards — students must pass an exit exam — and more accurate tracking of transfers, reports the Seattle Times. Unlike many states, Washington checks to see if students who say they’re transferring really enroll in a new school. If they don’t, they’re counted as dropouts.

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