Graduation rates don’t tell whole education story

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(Jeffersonville) News and Tribune

Graduating high school is obviously important, but earning a diploma isn’t always an indicator of true educational attainment.

Hoosier high school graduation rates haven’t changed much with 86.61% of students in the 2022 class earning a diploma.

That number was just a tick down from the 86.69% recorded in 2021 and a little lower than the 87.69% of Hoosier high school seniors who graduated in 2020.

Indiana remains in step with national graduation averages, though the fact that Black and Hispanic students continue to graduate at a lower rate than white and Asian students is concerning.

Black students graduated at a 77.5% mark and Hispanic students at 83.9% for 2022. Those numbers compare to an 88.8% rate for whites and 92.1% for Asians.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported the graduation rate for Indiana students who receive free or reduced-price lunch was 83.7% in 2022, behind the state’s overall average and about 8.5 percentage points below the mark for students with no subsidy.

While the graduation rate might never reach 100%, it can be improved, especially for students of color and those in low-income households.

Our school districts have to prioritize tutoring and specialized instruction for those who are struggling to keep pace with their peers. Funding must be available to support such efforts. Still, learning is about more than graduation rates. Last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress showed how much students are falling behind.

Nationwide, just 36% of fourth-graders scored at the level of proficient or above in math. In reading, only 33% of fourth-graders were proficient or above.

The results were even worse for eighth-graders with just 26% in math and 31% in reading scoring proficient or above. The results were among the worst in the history of the assessment.

The results mean the bulk of our students are at a basic or worse level when it comes to math and reading. That should trouble all of us, as those students are our future workers and leaders.

Experts blame the pandemic. The subpar scores came on the heels of the federal government spending a record $123 billion on schools, including funds earmarked to help students recover from educational gaps created by COVID-19 shutdowns and remote learning.

The coming years will show how much of an effect the pandemic had on education, but we can’t wait that long to address the problem. Students are graduating from high school at a respectable rate, but what are they learning?

Giving every student a chance to earn a high school diploma is crucial. Even more important, though, is making sure they leave high school with the knowledge they’ll need to achieve their goals in the workforce and in life.

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