Grad inflation

The Mississippi Department of Education just published a 79-page document breaking down nearly every aspect of the state’s graduation rate. Rates by district, by students with disabilities, by race and gender, it’s all in there — with one notable exception.

The state does not publish how many graduates did not pass the four subject-area tests, which was a requirement to get a diploma before 2014.

It’s easy to guess why: Publicizing that data would shine a light on the reason why graduation rates have steadily improved since then: lower standards.

The Department of Education did provide that information to me when I requested it, as it presumably did as well to the Associated Press, which reported about it. The state said 23,586 graduates (79.8 percent) passed all four subject area tests.

That means about 6,000 students who would not have met the standards for graduation before 2014 did in 2018.

What impact has that had on graduation rates? In 2014, the state’s rate was 74.5 percent. According to the numbers for the class of 2018 recently released, the rate has risen to 84 percent.

But if those nearly 6,000 students who didn’t pass the subject-area tests would not have received a diploma, the graduation rate would have fallen to 67 percent in 2018. Now some of them would have tried harder to pass if they didn’t have alternatives to graduating and would have buckled down and passed. That would probably boost the graduation rate back to around where it was in 2014. So in real terms of what students have actually learned before leaving high school, nothing has changed all that much.

Yet state leaders continue to give themselves a pat on the back for the so-called improvements.

Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright, the highest-paid in the nation, issued a laudatory press release saying, “Students, parents, teachers and administrators should be proud of the class of 2018’s significant achievement. I congratulate our school districts for helping students complete high school, prepare for college, postsecondary training, the military and the workforce.”

Gov. Phil Bryant boasted about the highest graduation rate in Mississippi history during his State of the State address, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who has the inside track toward becoming the next governor, has made it a staple in his campaign.

They are all, of course, well aware of the lower standards. It just benefits both the Democratic-leaning state Department of Education and the Republican-controlled state government to make a deal where they can both take credit for “improving education” while turning a blind eye toward the truth.

In fact, the subject-area tests are easy and should be a breeze for any student truly qualified to possess a high school diploma. Dumbing down the standards where students can get around those tests through a variety of means serves only to further ingrain the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” mentality — which conservatives like Bryant and Reeves love to rail against, except when it benefits them.

I don’t mean to be negative about the state’s public education system, which I support and believe is the key to a better Mississippi. And certainly administrators and politicians can’t be blamed for a culture that traditionally does not value education; they’ve been trying to change that mindset for years with only minimal success.

Yet someone needs to point out to the taxpayers, parents and employers that the alleged gains in graduation rates are mostly fiction. Admitting that — and holding politicians accountable for th


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Cathy Haynie, head of school at Christ Covenant School, is serving JAAIS (Jackson Area Association of Independent Schools) as president this year.