Response to recent conversation

Commenters on the AJC Get Schooled blog discussed last week’s announcement that the state high school graduation rate rose to 78.8 percent. Posters debate whether the increase reflected improved student performance or policy changes that eased the path to a diploma. Here is a sampling of reader comments:

Burrough: A certain way to increase apparent performance is to quietly lower the standard.

Cat: Moving away from the Georgia High School Graduation Test probably explains at least half of the improvement.

Class: Teachers' discretion on grading probably accounted for the other half. Now, the Georgia Milestones end-of-course test only counts for 20 percent of the grade. That leaves 80 percent to "teacher's discretion." No wonder more students are passing their classes.

Myra: I believe it is a combination of policy, practice and local district effort. Getting rid of the graduation test is a huge plus; kids who finish in summer school are now counted, and I don't believe they were a couple of years ago; districts are focusing more on helping struggling students with alternative programs, graduation coaches and partnerships with outside organizations that encourage and support kids. That's what I see in Clarke County, and it has made a significant difference in our graduation rate, which is above the state average.

OhPleez: Last year's graduating class at my high school produced a roughly 90 percent rate, but I would be surprised if more than a quarter of them could score beyond an 18 on the ACT. Schools are under political pressure to appear successful. One way to raise the graduation rate is for administrators to admonish teachers that "there will be no failures." This happened to me at my high school. Another way to improve the graduation rate is to offer ridiculously easy computer-based credit recovery courses. No reason for congratulations here; this is just smoke and mirrors.

Craig: Kudos to Dr. John Barge and to the team he assembled at the Georgia Department of Education. John's move from the Twin Towers to McIntosh County was a loss for all Georgians except for the people of that coastal county.

Critic: Administrators have learned how to pass students along to get that graduation rate up. The teacher must allow the students to turn in late work and count it toward the grade (which is usually copied from those students who already did the assignment), the teacher must provide access to extra credit, the teacher must provide parents notification of failing grades/missing work status every three weeks or sooner. This is so unfair to the students who do care and apply themselves and submit their work in a timely manner. It is no mystery why more students pass and graduate as administrators learn newer and better ways to make the numbers say what they want them to say.

Parent/Teacher: Further, teachers are expected/required to give retests and credit recovery at the end of the school year. If students still fail, they are placed in an online class that anyone can pass after taking the same online test three to five times.