Yesterday was a red letter day for education news. As usual, the interpretation of the results was as big a story as the results themselves. State test results for the ABC’s of Public Education were released for the last time yesterday. Next year a new English and math curriculum will be developed as well as a new testing system…
Education officials said the results were mixed. The percentage of schools meeting academic growth targets declined slightly; from 81.5 percent to 79.5 percent. On the other hand officials also noted, the passage rate on reading and math exams for elementary and middle schools increased from 76.5 percent to 77 percent. Also the passing rate on high school exams also increased from 79.7 percent to 81.4 percent on high school exams. See test results here.
You have to wonder if a decline of two percentage points is viewed as insignificant why increases of even less than that amount would be touted as positive developments. Spin. Spin. Spin.
In addition to ABC test results, DPI also released data on graduation rates. While the higher 2012 graduation rate is good news, our inability to assess its significant and determine what got us to this point is not. DPI announced that the four year graduation rate had climbed to 80.2 percent, an increase of 12 percentage points over the last six years. DPI cited the rate (80.2) as “Highest in NC History”. Technically, that’s not correct. Figures for four-year graduation rate were first gathered in 2002-03. So you should say it’s the highest graduation rate since we began keeping records in 2002-03. That reality has a slightly different ring than the phrase “highest in NC history.” Although we don’t have credible records to prove it, I’d say at some point before 2000 teh NC graduation rate was certainly higher than eighty percent.
Officials differed as to the reasons for the increase. Educators were quick to cite dropout prevention programs, additional staff and efforts specifically focused on keeping kids in school and helping them to graduate. House Speaker Thom Tillis offered this assessment in a press release from his office.
Our graduation rate shows that improving our education system is not simply a matter of dollars and cents. We must continue to give superintendents, principals and teachers more flexibility and ensure that education is driven by factors inside the classroom rather than by distant administrations and political rhetoric. Our broad-based, open-minded approach to education is helping students and educators improve outcomes across the state
It’s difficult to draw a direct line of causation. Who knows for sure. Education officials are quick to tout impact of resources targeted on keeping kids in school and dropout prevention grants. The fact is, dropout prevention grants have been riddled with problems (See here and here).
Still I’m bothered. While certainly good news and we should celebrate the improvement, no one is saying the obvious: there is more work to be done. And, it’s not acceptable that 20 percent of North Carolina high school students fail to graduate in four years. Where is the outrage that we haven’t reached our real goal? Come to think of it, what is our goal? Lastly, no one mentioned the impact of the economy on the graduation rate. A bad economy would serve to keep kids in school. If you know you won’t be able to find a job, aren’t you more likely to stay in school than dropout? It may have been as significant a factor as anything else in helping to boost North Carolina’s four-year graduation rate.