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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Grades and grad rates rise, and that's not good news

Grades are up! Graduation rates are rising! But that's not good news. Test scores are down, across the country, writes Hechinger's Jill Barshay. Attendance is down. So are post-pandemic students' ambitions. Unprepared academically and not in the habit of doing work or showing up, fewer students will earn college degrees, analysts predict.

A March 2023 report by the D.C. Policy Center details the decline in attendance and academic success in District of Columbia Public Schools. The graduation rate rose to a record 75 percent, up from 68 percent in 2018-19, but fewer graduates are enrolled in postsecondary education.

Only eight out of every 100 D.C. ninth graders will go on to earn a postsecondary credential, the report predicts. That's down from 14 out of every 100 ninth graders before the pandemic.

It's not just Washington, D.C., Morgan Polikoff, an associate professor of education at USC, told Barshay. “The trends in D.C. are true everywhere — attendance is way down, grades are up, high school graduation is slightly up, college enrollment is down.”

Parents don't realize their children's futures are at risk, writes Barshay, noting that parents aren’t signing their children up for free tutoring. "Who can blame them when their children’s grades are strong and their children are on track to graduate?"

Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, warns of a lost generation. "I feel like I just need to stand on a mountaintop and just yell, 'Take this seriously! Everything is at stake right now!'," he told CBS News.

New York is lowering standards on state reading and math tests so more students will be labeled "proficient," writes Dale Chu. "This in a state where kids lost enormous ground, and where things are probably worse than reported due to the large number of students who did not sit for the state exams."

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, in a "platitude-heavy speech" earlier this year, called for "raising the bar" and "setting higher standards for academic success in reading and mathematics," notes Chu. Cardona said standardized tests should serve as “a flashlight on what works and what needs our attention.”

But honesty hurts. "We’re really lousy at 'catching kids up' en masse if they’ve fallen significantly behind," writes Chu. "Consequently, to solve for low proficiency rates, the path of least resistance is to make exams easier to pass — creating a false impression of success, much as already happens with high school graduation rates."

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