It’s not surprising that Indiana high school graduation rates declined in 2021. It’s probably a little surprising that they didn’t decline more than they did.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, the graduation rate for public and charter schools was 86.69%. That’s down one percentage point from the 2020 rate.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive disruption to schooling in 2020-21. Some high school seniors no doubt adapted well to online or hybrid classes, but others didn’t. We heard stories of students who gave up on school, sometimes to work or care for siblings. An analysis by the state DOE found 2020-21 disruptions had an academic impact ranging from moderate to significant for Hoosier students. You’d expect the graduation rate to drop.
The Indiana Department of Education released 2021 ILEARN assessment results Wednesday for students in grades 3-to-8. I don’t want to read too much into standardized test scores, especially during a pandemic, but here are some thoughts.
COVID-19 clearly impacted learning, as everyone expected it would. Between 2019 and 2021, the share of students who scored proficient on the tests declined by about 8 percentage points in English/language arts and by about 11 percentage points in math. The share of students who were proficient in both English/language arts and math declined from 37.1% to 28.6%. (The test wasn’t given in 2020).
This isn’t entirely an apples-to-apples situation, and the department cautioned against comparing 2019 and 2021 scores. For one thing, the 2019 scores included only students who were enrolled at the same school for 162 days, while the 2021 scores apparently included all students who were tested. State officials said they’re thinking of 2021 as a “new baseline” for measuring future improvement.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is taking bold action by rejecting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and distributing emergency aid for schools the way Congress intended.
It’s remarkable that, thanks to McCormick, Indiana appears to be the first state to openly push back against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and refuse to follow guidance that it deems to be contrary to the law.
At issue is funding from the CARES Act, which provides $13.2 billion to help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools can use the money to improve technology, protect student health and plan for the next school year.
Economist Susan Dynarski writes in Sunday’s New York Times that America needs an ambitious initiative to help students make up for the learning that they missed this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation’s schools.
Teachers and students have done their best with distance learning, she writes, but “it’s time to admit that, for the vast majority of students, online learning and work sheets are no substitute for trained teachers in classrooms.”
Her proposal: a massive federal program to help students catch up, something on the order of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. It’s needed, she says, because for many students, the school year effectively ended in March.