One of the bright spots in the official release of the 2015-16 Unbridled Learning report is the high school graduation rate situation. The official rate for on time graduations all students rose again from 87.9 percent last year to 88.6 percent in 2016. This rate, officially called the Four-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate (ACGR), is based on tracking each student from school entry to exit to insure that students entering each high school are properly credited as a success or not.
However, the Bluegrass Institute has done a lot of research recently into the quality behind Kentucky’s high school diplomas. There is major cause for concern that our rising high graduation rates may mostly indicate a lot of social promotion to diplomas is going on in the Bluegrass State.
One serious indication of the quality problems with Kentucky’s diplomas comes from our comparison of the official graduation rates to the percentages of those graduates who are able to meet even one of the state’s official College and/or Career Ready (CCR) standards.
After all, what value does a high school diploma really have if a graduate isn’t adequately prepared to be a success in follow-on pursuits? Inadequately prepared graduates really don’t get an effective education; hence we call our new metric of true graduation success the “Effective High School Graduation Rate.”
Very briefly, the Effective High School Graduation Rate shows the proportion of entering ninth grade students who leave school on time after four years in high school with a good enough education to qualify under at least one area of Kentucky’s official College and/or Career Ready standards (Read more about how we calculate the Effective High School Graduation Rate in our “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update” beginning on Page 13).
So, for our first look at the 2016 graduation rate data from Unbridled Learning, we examine how the officially reported Four-Year ACGR and officially reported CCR data relate to the percentage of students that really got an effective education with their diploma. The graph and table below show how that turns out for each school year where the Four-Year ACGR is available.
Notice in the graph that the Effective High School Graduation Rate’s trajectory is notably flattening. The Table below makes that trend clearer.
As you can see in the far right column of the table, the rate of increase in the Effective High School Graduation Rate seems to be getting cut in half in each succeeding year. From 2012-13 to 2013-14 the rate increased by 8.1 points. It went up only half of that amount between 2013-14 and 2014-15. The rate of improvement was basically cut in half again between 2014-15 and 2015-16. This rapid slowing in improvement is obviously of great concern when the 2015-16 Effective High School Graduation Rate is barely more than 60 percent.
There is another takeaway here. The table shows that the official graduation rates being reported by the Kentucky Department of Education are MUCH higher than the Effective High School Graduation Rates. Even as of 2016, there is nearly a 28 point gap in the two rates. While most of us tracking education would be very happy with a meaningful graduation rate of 88.6 percent as of this year, I don’t think anyone would cheer a rate as low as the 2016 Effective High School Graduation Rate of just 60.7 percent.
Sadly, that big disparity between the officially reported high school graduation rate and the Effective High School Graduation Rate indicate a lot of social promotion to diplomas happened with the Class of 2016, just as we found in our earlier investigations of the 2015 class’ data.