Sen. Berger’s Comments on Graduation Rates, One of the Most Manipulated Statistics in Public Education

Yep. He’s right.

Graduation rates in NC have gone up.

In his response to Gov. Roy Cooper’s “State of the State” address, Berger did selectively say this:

“Since 2011, the gap in high school graduation rates between African-American students and all students has been cut in half, from 6.4 percent to 3.1 percent.” 

And the News & Record did a fact check on it. The numbers do pan out.

“Berger spokesman Pat Ryan said the statistics came from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which keeps track of graduation rates and publishes them online.

According to the department, the graduation rate for all students graduating in 2010-11 was 77.9 percent, and the rate for black students that year was 71.5 percent. That means there was a 6.4 percentage-point gap between the rate for all students and the rate for black students.

The gap has shrunk by more than half since then, getting smaller every year between 2010-11 and 2016-17, when it reached a low of 2.6 percentage points.

In 2017-18, the graduation rate for all students was 86.3 percent, and the graduation rate for black students was 83.2 percent, making the gap just 3.1 percentage points.”

But there are reasons for this. And those reasons were intentionally manufactured to allow Berger to make these statements veneered with a positive shine.

Just dig deeper.

Along with “student test scores” and “student achievement,” “graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale a few years ago (after 2011) in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower. That drastically affects graduation rates.

Add to that, it takes fewer credits to graduate  than it did years ago, and in many cases students are taking more classes to pass fewer credits because many systems have adopted the block schedule. In fact, most all high school teachers are teaching more classes and more kids because of removed class size caps and overcrowding in schools and altered schedules.

And then there is this rather interesting practice.

Many school districts have decided to make a “50” the lowest possible grade a student could receive for a quarter grade on a report card.

In a four quarter system for a yearlong A/B class like an AP course, a student could do absolutely no homework, complete zero papers, and refuse to answer any questions on any assessment and get a true zero percent for a quarter score while that student was present for class on almost all possible days. A teacher would still have to give that student a “50” for the quarter. That’s ten points below a passing grade for doing nothing.

A teacher could have a student who is busting his/her butt to complete work, but is not mastering the concepts as quickly as others. That teacher offer tutoring, extra credit, and differentiate instruction, but that student is still struggling. That student gets a 65 for the quarter.

There is more than a fifteen point differential in the performance of the two students.

It is hard to fathom, but there are students who literally can do nothing for over half the year (or semester for a block class) and still salvage a passing grade in a class where other students have literally sweated and toiled just to pass. They simply pass two quarters and the state exam, an exam that is not made by the teacher but a third party and graded by a third party who then can designate a conversion formula to alter the outcome.

That affects graduation rates.

Makes one wonder how Berger would want to explain the reason for higher graduation rates if he was really pressed with the facts.