New Jersey’s high school graduation rate is very high – 90.9% for the class of 2018. Good news, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
What do we really mean by a “meaningful” diploma?
If you’ve followed JerseyCAN’s work, you’ve likely heard us mention the need for a meaningful high school diploma. Along with our colleagues at the We Raise NJ coalition, we emphasize high expectations to prepare our students for success after graduation. We also recently partnered with Better Education For Kids to advocate for maintaining graduation exit exams in this Star Ledger op-ed. We explained:
“The real issue is ensuring that graduating from a New Jersey high school means something — that our high school diploma provides a degree of certainty, and that our students are prepared for college and career.”
Why is this Important?
To see why, we can take a look at an interesting new research report making the rounds – Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates. It’s part of the larger Grad Nation Campaign, a project of the America’s Promise Alliance with the goal of increasing the nation’s on-time high school graduation rate to 90% for the class of 2020.
Co-authored by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, researchers looked at multiple measures of academic success, including the percent of students scoring proficient on the 8th grade reading and math National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams, the percentage of students receiving a 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam and the percentage of students graduating from high school in four years. And the findings are very encouraging. From 2011 to 2017, 68% of states have been able to improve both their graduation rates and at least two other measures of academic success of their secondary schools.
As noted in this Washington Post piece on the report, this use of multiple measures of success is purposeful and important:
“As much as graduation rates overall are rising, it’s important to be clear about just what those diplomas indicate……These results are promising. They suggest that, by and large, high school graduation rates have increased not because the standards for academic preparedness have been watered down but because more students are leaving high school genuinely on track for college level academic work and more of them are graduating having completed college-level work while still in high school.”
While this report has a national focus, it illustrates an important truth for our work here in New Jersey. When it comes to analyzing data on student performance, we must consider multiple objective measures. A high graduation rate is encouraging, but we should also be asking questions:
- Are all student subgroups equally represented in that high graduation rate?
- Do graduating students also have high rates of proficiency on standard-aligned state exams?
- Do the students perform well on college or employment entrance exams?
- Do they require remediation?
All of this information matters.
Our own state data illustrates this need for multiple measures too. According to recent State and District performance reports, that 90.9% graduation rate in 2018 is contrasted by 72% at or above the SAT reading benchmark, 54% at or above the SAT Math benchmark, 51% meeting or exceeding expectations on the NJ Learning Assessment ELA 10 exam, 46% doing so on the Algebra I exam. The contrasts are even starker in individual cities.
With all this in mind, we must remain committed to careful data gathering, analysis and reporting. When it comes to student success and preparation, we need to continue to have objective measures to help us see the full picture of student success.
Want to learn more about JerseyCAN’s research on student academic progress? Be sure to check back tomorrow – we’ve got a new project we’re excited to share with you!