Graduation rate is student success story

Forget, for a while, whatever bad news you’ve heard about education in Indiana. Let’s take a moment to celebrate what Hoosier students have accomplished. When it comes to staying in school and graduating, they’ve been doing about everything we could ask.

According to a recent report from the Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation:

  • Indiana had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country in 2015, at 87.1 percent.
  • It had the narrowest “graduation gap” between low-income and non-low-income students of any state: 4.5 percentage points.
  • It ranked in the top five states for closing the gap between all students and low-income students between 2011 and 2015.
  • It had higher-than-average graduation rates for every subgroup of students except for Asian and Pacific Islander students.

“Indiana has much to be proud of,” the report says, referring to the record rates. “In addition, districts within the state are learning, innovating, and improving their abilities to serve their students and prepare them for the next steps in life. Indiana has taken concrete action over many years, following the evidence of what works to improve student outcomes and it has benefitted as a result.”

Indiana students aren’t alone in making progress. According to new data from the National Center on Education Statistics, the national graduation hit an all-time high of 84 percent last year.

Of course, some people will throw cold water on the good news, and the Fairbanks report includes some of that. Are all the students who graduate “college and career ready”? Are some schools using credit recovery programs and other tricks to boost their numbers? Are too many Indiana students graduating with waivers because they haven’t passed standardized tests? Are too many earning a general diploma rather than the supposedly more demanding Core 40 diploma?

Yes, there are still gaps, with white students graduating at a rate about 10 percentage points higher than black students in urban schools. And there are schools and districts with graduation rates that are unacceptably low. Indianapolis Public Schools had a rate of 64 percent, for example.

But even those have shown remarkable improvement. According to a national report lamenting the “drop-out crisis,” the IPS graduation rate in 2005 was only 31 percent. Nationwide, it wasn’t until after World War II that half of all students graduated from high school.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to keep making progress when state officials keep moving the goalposts, as they’re doing with the “graduation pathways” plan approved Wednesday by the State Board of Education. If the new requirements had been in effect in 2016, they would have lowered the graduation rate by 12.6 percentage points, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

But all that aside, sometimes good things happen in education. When they do, we should celebrate.

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