High Graduation Rates: An Illusion of Success?


The graduation rates for 2016 were released this week. While Douglas County’s rates dipped slightly from 2015 (88.5 to 87.1%), it still surpasses the state average significantly (79.2%) and remains higher than all surrounding districts. Since graduation standards are now completely established internally by the local district, one should critically examine whether or not higher rates are simply due to a district lowering its standards required for graduation.

Douglas County high schools have relied heavily on online credit recovery (OCR) courses to attain and maintain their high graduation rates. The sharp increase in 2015 was attributed by the district to “personalized learning programs,” which is a euphemism for OCR courses (this was one of the reasons given in the GA State Senate commendation the district received for the increases). Hundreds of DCSS graduates each year receive graduation credits from these courses.


Yet, as an Atlanta Journal Constitution investigative report has shown, students learn very little in these courses (as indicated by proficiency rates on standardized tests). Proficiency rates statewide are around 10% while the failure rate is above 50%. In a sample of over 200 online students in Douglas County, the failure rate was over 70% in 2015.


Earning a high school diploma is supposed to mean that a student is college ready. Perhaps a better metric of student achievement then is how graduates perform in college. According to data on the state DoE website, 37% of DCSS graduates enrolled in a public college or university in Georgia had to take at least one remedial class, and this number increased from the previous year. Compare this to a 25% rate across the state (which is still a problem!).

Our graduation rate is higher than the state average, yet more of our students have to take remedial classes in college.  How can this be?



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