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Parsing Higher Graduation Rates

At first glance, news that the graduation rate in New York State hit a new high of 79.4 percent is cause for celebration ("Graduation Rate in New York State Hits a New High: 79.4%," The New York Times, Feb. 11).  But the news needs to be examined more closely there as well as in other states.

The fact is that in most cases the improvement is the result of a lowering of the bar.  For example, students in New York State are allowed to appeal to their districts despite falling short on one or two Regents exams.  When I was a student on New York's Long Island, the Regents exams assessed minimal skills and knowledge.  Past Regents exams were published in review books in order to help students prepare.  (I still have ragged copies.)   I thought the exams were fair.

In those days, Regents exams were only for academic courses, although I believed that vocational courses also deserved to be included. The Board of Regents, the body that governs the state's education system, now allows students to graduate if they pass four - rather than five - such exams and present evidence they possess the skills for entry-level employment. That's a step in the right direction, as well as allowing students with disabilities to graduate by passing two Regents exams and showing proficiency in other subjects through coursework.

My point, however, is that exceptions are made for students not in these groups.  For example, one-third of high school graduates in Tennessee did not complete all required courses for their diploma ("Tennessee Says A Third Of Its High School Graduates Don't Meet Requirements," nprEd, Feb. 11).  Clearly something is wrong, but the jubilation will continue.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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