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Readers: Graduation rates a ‘feel-good feeling’

On Monday, we asked our readers “How complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools?”

The week before, the state released graduation and dropout rates for its high schools. Continuing a trend, the dropout rate dropped and the number of students who completed high school in four years increased. As of last spring, nearly eight out every 10 Colorado high school students are graduating on time.

Reader Alan Davis said the positive trend on the whole is good. But graduation data at individual schools raises more questions than answers.

Improved graduation rates at the state and district level really do mean that more students are graduating, and that in itself is good and important. The gaps associated with gender and ethnicity remain surprising stable, however, and the most perplexing to me is why the graduation rate for girls remain about 7 percent ahead of boys year after year.

At the level of individual high schools, however, graduation rates tell us less. Fewer than half of students who drop out of high school drop out of the school they started at in the ninth grade. When they are unhappy and unsuccessful at their first school they transfer to another and then to another, and each transition typically takes a toll and puts them further behind. Finally they drop out, and are counted in the graduation rate of that final school. Alternative education campuses (AECs) in particular can’t be compared fairly to other high schools based on graduation rates for this reason.

But some are concerned the increased graduation rate isn’t painting an accurate picture of school improvement.

Reader Elise suggested in an email that graduation rates are no more than a “feel good” moment for a struggling system:

Graduation rates are basically meaningless when students are unprepared for career or college. Rising graduation rates provide a feel good moment for districts and a distraction away from the low proficiency numbers. No one seems to notice a lack of reporting of “proficiency.” It is all smoke and mirrors… and very sad.

And Adams County teacher and sometimes contributor to Chalkbeat Mark Sass commented on our website:

Let’s start by looking at what it takes to graduate. We still use the old industrial model of seat time. We drop students who are shy of credits in front of computers to complete their seat time to make up missing credits. Is seat time a good indicator of how successful our students will be post K-12? 2020 graduations will be based on competency requirements, a much better way to evaluate students. Let’s look at the results then.

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

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