“The U.S. Department of Education reports that 81 percent of the class of 2013 graduated within four years...” according to a report in Education Week earlier this year. Considering that the graduation rate was just under 70 percent 15 years ago, this over-ten-percent increase is unbelievable news. Yes, truly unbelievable.
Now, the figures are correct. They are based on the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) metric required by No Child Left Behind. This is based on the number of freshmen who graduate four years later. But even when other methods are used for calculating graduation rates, the trend is still upward.
These figures point to the supreme ability of some and perhaps many public school administrators to undermine teacher grading and inflate grades to meet government-mandated “school improvement.”
One teacher explained how her school allowed teachers to keep the 90-80-70-60 percentage cut-off scores for A-B-C-D. But the school then required that zero performance started at 50! Score 10 percent and you were over the 60 percent line and made a D. Score 20 percent and you were now a C student. Considering that many tests are multiple choice with 4 or 5 answers, random marking would score at 20 to 25 percent which, plus 50, would make a student “average.”
Another teacher described a student who never did his homework. At the end of each grading period, when it was obvious that the student had earned a zero, the school counselor pulled the student from class and put him on a programmed learning computer. Without even reading the screen, the student could progress through the question sets over and over until he had a passing or even a good score. This F-student who formerly would have flunked out of high school was now walking across the stage getting a diploma, right behind good students who completed genuine course work and earned their diploma.
Any professional educator should recognize that these programmed learning exercises for “recovering credit” are fraudulent. But instead of being fired for circumventing actual teaching and grading, they are rewarded and promoted for increasing graduation rates.
Yes, there are public schools where honest and solid teaching still occurs and these cheap end-runs are not allowed. But the number of teachers who report to me that they feel coerced into giving higher grades is increasing rapidly. School climate is changing. Whether they are beginning or veteran teachers, it is becoming more risky to assign high school students a failing grade even when the students do nothing.
The upbeat U.S. Department of Education report breaks down this increase in graduation rates for various subgroups. It reveals that the grade inflation “raises all boats.” 89 percent of Asian-Americans graduate on time while only 70 percent of Native American students graduate in four years.
62 percent of students with disabilities graduate on time, an increase but still 19 points lower than the national rate. Student graduation in Iowa was highest at 90 percent, lowest in the District of Columbia at 62 percent. And 61 percent of students with limited English graduated.
How can we know that this dramatic 10-percent-plus increase in student graduation does not reflect a surge in better teachers and better students?
In addition to teacher reports-from-the-field, the recently-released ACT and SAT scores show that the number of high school seniors ready for college is not increasing and remains below 40 percent. And despite growing college enrolments, veteran college professors are not seeing any surge in student performance. Instead, the numbers of American-educated students who persist in college and graduate to apply for high-skill professions such as medicine or engineering are decreasing. The United States is increasing our reliance on foreign students.
More-and-more, the criterion for receiving a public high school diploma in America is maintaining a heartbeat.