Friends and Neighbors: Is it OK if Half of Our High School Students Cannot Graduate?

Bill Michaelson's picture

I like to think my hometown of Lawrence Township has good schools. Of course, that's a subjective matter. There are many ways to judge schools and students, and we each have our own yardsticks. I know that our community is diverse, culturally and economically and we have many challenges. Yet we've historically managed to see the vast majority of our children graduate from our high school with diplomas that I assume are valuable and meaningful.

The official definition of valuable and meaningful is pending change. The State Department of Education has issued requirements that it wants to cement into law, and we await determinations from the State Board of Education as well as the courts to settle the matter. At issue are the new requirements for an exit test as eligibilty to graduate from high school. The DOE, in its zeal to coerce participation in the PARCC standardized tests has found a hammer that it likes to pound parents with. They propose to require all students pass the test for the Class of 2021 as a condition of qualifying to receive a diploma. Until then, all students will have the option of using alternate tests and forms of assessment.

Let's look at how this requirement would have affected the Class of 2015. The passing score thresholds would need to have been met for one of any English Language Arts PARCC exam, and one of any Math exam: Algebra I, Algebra II or Geometry. If we look at the results from last year's score distributions, without too much analyzing it seems obvious that at least half of students would not make the grade. Maybe 2/3 would fail.

ELA 9 333 32 301 13.6 20.9 22.9 29.6 13 L4: 42.6%
ALG 1 344 52 292 18.5 26.7 23.6 28.4 2.7 L4: 31.1%
ELA 10 282 31 251 19.5 16.7 19.5 24.7 19.5 L4: 44.2%
GEO 278 34 244 13.1 42.2 17.6 22.1 4.9 L3: 44.6%
ELA 11 276 22 254 12.2 22.4 23.6 30.3 11.4 L3: 65.3%
ALG 2 271 38 233 33.9 22.7 19.7 23.2 .4 L3: 43.3%
Students are required to pass one math and one ELA test using the score threshold designated for that test (shown in right column)

Is this where we are headed? All signs indicate so! Keep in mind that the passing score thresholds for all these tests were determined several months after the students had already taken the tests. In other words, the students didn't determine whether they passed. The State DOE determined how many would pass. What were they thinking? What are you thinking?

If I assume that we will stay on this trajectory - a not unreasonable assumption - then it implies that we will have an abundance of 18 year-olds pushed out the door, locked out of many college and employment opportunities. Who sees a different scenario? Does anyone imagine that we will heroically rise to the challenge with super-teaching so that most of our students will pass the same tests with the same score thresholds? I think that's extremely far-fetched, or actually ridiculous, but even if it happened, how do we imagine it would affect our schools?