Opinion: Two states with surprisingly high graduation rates : Post Missi

In the second half of 2010, education performance in two states improved to such an extent that a few days ago a startling headline appeared on The Washington Post’s website: “Why Alabama and West Virginia Suddenly Astonishing High School Graduation Rates.”

The header is correct. An analysis of the 2018-19 school year (data for recent years are not available due to the covid-19 pandemic) shows that Alabama’s graduation rate was the highest in the country. Iowa ranked second after being No. 1 for the rest of 2010, and West Virginia was third.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, these three states were among only seven where more than 90% of high school students received a diploma.

In virtually every state, the graduation rate has improved over the decade. But few came close to the prizes in Alabama and West Virginia. In 2010-11, Alabama ranked 40th in the nation with a 72% graduation rate, while West Virginia ranked 27th with a 78% graduation rate. Now they are in first and third place.

These are impressive improvements. Almost too impressive: Mississippi’s graduation rate has improved in recent years after the state gave seniors multiple paths to a degree other than passing exams in four subjects. Critics say Mississippi’s change allows more unprepared students to graduate from high school. Is that what Alabama and West Virginia are doing?

The Post quoted researchers from Tulane University and Johns Hopkins University as saying that both states had embraced graduation targeting early, enthusiastically and persistently. They said Alabama and West Virginia took graduation seriously and made it a priority.

“In particular, both states have focused on … an early warning system that tracks behavior, attendance and grades in the ninth grade, a critical point where many prospective dropouts pass through the cracks in the transition from middle school to high school,” it reported. Fasting.

A researcher at Johns Hopkins said that while some children drop out of high school to find work or because of pregnancy, the largest group is often those who fall behind in the ninth grade and never catch up.

The Post said Alabama and West Virginia have hired third-party vendors to identify at-risk students. They shared information with teachers who helped to find out exactly what was holding children back in class or causing poor performance.

In the end, one researcher said the job was simply “a lot of problem solving and little effort to help students stay on track.” But such a rapid improvement should be a reason for skepticism and fact-checking.

Here’s one check: Census Bureau statistics place both Alabama and West Virginia “comfortably close to the top for the fastest growth in the proportion of young people with high school diplomas in the last decade,” the Post reports.

Additionally, the researchers found no efforts by states to artificially inflate graduation rates. However, the Post noted that in 2013, Alabama dropped the requirement for a diploma exam, one of many states to do so, believing it was hurting lower-performing students by failing to provide obvious benefits.

It turns out that states that kept the exam requirement saw slightly greater increases in graduation rates. But one researcher noted the possible positive side of lower graduation standards: students who stay in school will gain knowledge in many subjects. It can only help them in the future.

The website included a graph of the growing wage gap between dropout pay and the US median wage. In 1975, school dropouts earned 72% of the median wage. In 2020, they earned only 49%. This highlights the importance of a high school diploma, and Alabama and West Virginia may have some lessons that other states can copy.

— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal

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