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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Many state grad rates will fall, due to ESSA rule

Graduation rates have been increasing across the country, but many states will have to report lower graduation rates under the new federal education law, reports Catherine Gewertz in Ed Week.

Indiana’s 89 percent graduation rate could fall to 76 percent, because Indiana offers an easier “general” diploma with lower requirements to students who can’t handle college-prep courses.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), only diplomas earned by a “preponderance” of students — or more rigorous diplomas — count towards the graduation rate.

The goal was “to drive states to make sure that diplomas were really preparing students for success,” a Senate aide told Gewertz.

2008 federal regulation set rules for calculating graduation rates; it excluded alternative and equivalency credentials. Evaluating the quality of a diploma is new.

“A recent report found that 23 states offer multiple pathways to a diploma,” writes Gewertz. It’s not clear which diplomas would count toward the graduation rate.

In Arkansas, two-thirds of students graduate with the state’s “smart core” diploma, and one-third earn its less-rigorous “core” diploma. In New York state, 4 percent of graduates get a “local” diploma, which isn’t as rigorous as its “regents” and “advanced” diplomas. In Oregon, 3.7 percent of students earn a “modified” diploma, which is intended for students with a “demonstrated inability” to meet all the state’s academic expectations.

Ironically, states can meet the new requirement by lowering requirements for all students: If a “preponderance” earn a non-college-prep diploma, that counts.

I think offering different levels of diplomas is the only way to dumbing down the diploma, while giving all students a chance to graduate. Indiana puts 88 percent of students in college-prep courses. Do we really believe 100 percent would succeed in college prep?

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