Trust has been lost in high school diploma

Published 8:56 pm Thursday, March 17, 2016

By Andrew A. Yerbey

Yerbey is Senior Policy Counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute (API).

Two weeks ago, Tommy Bice announced his plans to step down as Alabama’s superintendent of education. Reflecting on his tenure, Bice singled out one accomplishment with especial pride: the nearly 90 percent graduation rate of public-school students in Alabama. This is not, however, an accomplishment that should be celebrated: it will go down as the most pernicious failure of the Bice tenure. When the high-school diploma has been as devalued as it has, its benefits — economic and otherwise — become a

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Evidence is provided by the meteoric rise in the graduation rate of public school students in Alabama. The rate has skyrocketed from 72 percent in 2011 to 89 percent in 2015. To put this percentage in perspective, if the graduation rates of the other 49 states were to remain unchanged from 2014, then Alabama’s graduation rate would now rank third nationally.

The problem, of course, is that Alabama has seen nothing remotely similar occur with regard to scholastic achievement, which remains among the worst of the worst in the United States.

Consider the results of the ACT. The ACT defines college readiness as “about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses . . . based on the actual performance of students in college.” In an era of grade inflation, a grade of C in a first-year college course is not a very high benchmark. Yet, the percentage of Alabama students who graduated ready for college-level coursework in English, math, reading, and science was a mere 16 percent in 2015, down from 18 percent in 2011. The national average was 28 percent.

It is no wonder, then, that 32 percent of Alabama public-school graduates who attend college need remediation.

Consider the results of the ACT Plan, an assessment (now the ACT Aspire) taken bytenth-graders that predicts success on the ACT. Assuming that the ACT Plan scores are representative of upperclassmen, more than two dozen high schools in Alabama — with a combined graduation rate of 83 percent — could have graduated a group of students without a single one of those graduates being college-ready.

Consider the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.”. According to the 2015 scores, only 17 percent and 26 percent of Alabama eighth-graders are proficient in math and reading with neither score changing significantly since 2011. Both scores remain significantly below the national average.

The next superintendent will have to rebuild the trust that has been lost in Alabama’s high-school diploma. This means ensuring that it reflects scholastic achievement.