Editorial on APS and Increased Graduation Rates

Fortifying, Preparing, Graduating
Posted on 05/03/2018
Image of Editorial Icon(from Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal editorial board)

Akron Public Schools mobilized successfully to boost its high school graduation rate. District educators saw they had a problem at the start of the school year, just 54 percent of seniors on track to graduate. So they seized alternative pathways to a diploma defined by the state.

On Monday, the district announced that it projects reaching a 93 percent graduation rate for the current school year.

That’s a huge 39 percentage point gain. The district deserves applause for guiding struggling students through completion of two of the nine alternatives, including 93 percent attendance in senior year, completing a capstone project, earning a 2.5 grade point average as a senior and devoting 120 hours to community service.

The achievement also deserves context because it gets to something troubling about the state’s approach to primary and secondary education. Again, the state has talked a good game. Yet when confronted with the size of the task, officials gave schools and the state a break. That isn’t a formula for success in the long run, or what the state must achieve for children in the classroom.

The alternative pathways represent the state’s response to sinking graduation rates due to the application of more rigorous academic standards. For instance, that 54 percent facing Akron was far from its 74 percent graduation rate for last year, typical of recent years. The district wasn’t alone. Many others anticipated rates in decline.

The drop reflects students failing to score the required 18 points or more on seven end-of-course exams. Each test is scored from 1 (limited) to 5 (advanced). So four 3s and three 2s would bring a diploma. Now students who are falling short can complete two of the alternative pathways.

In January, the State Board of Education called for an extension of the alternatives for the graduating classes of 2019 and 2020.

No doubt, some students deserve flexibility. They may not test well or otherwise must cope with complications. At the same time, Ohioans benefit from higher academic standards, and the state needs a way to measure how schools are performing overall.

If the state board prevails, the class of 2021 will not have the alternative pathways. Would that result in declining graduation rates? Akron back to where it was? This is not easy. Practically everyone sees the concern in so many students without a diploma. Yet there also is the problem of students failing to gain the skills they need, leaving high school unprepared.

The Akron graduation rate isn’t on the verge of an impressive annual increase, from 74 percent to 93 percent, because so many of its students are suddenly and dramatically better equipped.

The district is launching the promising College and Career Academies. The I Promise School, supported by the LeBron James Family Foundation, takes a serious approach to poverty and its effect on education. What the district and its students could use from the state is a more effective transition, one that preserves the muscle of higher standards and proves candid about where Ohio stands and what it must achieve.
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