Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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Federal rule change could make grad rates fall

In states like Maryland and Massachusetts, where high school graduates all receive the same type of diploma, graduation rates reported under the Every Student Succeeds Act will stay constant; other states, though, that offer different levels of high school diploma based on the rigor of the courses students complete, such as Indiana, might take a hit, Education Week reports.


2014 grads of Lawrence North H.S. in Indiana (David Armstrong / Flickr CC)

ESSA, the federal revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, was written to address a concern federal lawmakers had: a high school diploma from one state didn’t mean what a high school diploma from another state meant. They generally wanted to make high school graduation mean that the kid who graduated had mastered a certain level of content.

In direct conflict with that goal is another provision of ESSA that allows each state to determine its own standards for graduation. As a result, a state like Maryland, where most of the students complete a course of study—so many years of math, English, and so on—based on requirements of the University System of Maryland, gives all high school graduates the same diploma.

States like New York and Oregon, on the other hand, give different types of diplomas for high school graduation, awarding diplomas akin to completion certificates to indicate that students didn’t complete a rigorous college-prep course of study.

In Indiana, about half of the students complete the default college-prep coursework while 38 percent complete the college-prep track with honors. The “general” diploma in Indiana is earned by about 12 percent of the students, and that has lower requirements than the default college-prep track.

As a result of the state awarding different levels of high school diploma, the state may not be able to count the 12 percent as high school grads, meaning that the state’s graduation rate would drop from 89 to about 76 percent.

Indiana Superintendent of Schools Jennifer McCormick wrote in a letter to Indiana’s congressional delegation last month that the lower graduation rate will put Indiana “at a national disadvantage” and would “not reflect well upon our state and could negatively impact our economy.”

About half the states are in the same boat in that they offer a few different types of high school diploma, some of which have less rigorous requirements than the diplomas awarded to a preponderance of students.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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