Opinion: Two states with surprisingly high graduation rates – Update Alaba

In the second half of 2010, educational outcomes in the two states improved to such an extent that The Washington Post website a few days ago ran this startling headline: “Why Alabama and West Virginia Suddenly Have Amazing High School Graduation Rates.”

The title is correct. An analysis of the 2018-19 school year (data from recent years is not available due to the covid-19 pandemic) found that Alabama’s graduation rate was the highest in the nation. Iowa was ranked second after being No. 1 for the remainder of 2010, and West Virginia was third.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, these three states were among only seven where more than 90% of high school students received a diploma.

Virtually every state has improved over the decades. But few came close to the gains in Alabama and West Virginia. In 2010-11, Alabama was 40th nationally with a 72% graduation rate, while West Virginia was 27th at 78%. Now they are first and third.

These are impressive improvements. All too impressive: Mississippi’s graduation rate has improved in recent years after the state gave seniors more paths to a diploma beyond passing four-subject exams. Critics say Mississippi’s change allows more underprepared students to graduate from high school. Do Alabama and West Virginia do it?

The Post cited researchers at Tulane University and Johns Hopkins University who said the two states were early, enthusiastic and persistent adopters of graduation rate targeting. Alabama and West Virginia, they said, took graduation seriously and made it a priority.

“In particular, the two states have focused on … an early warning system, monitoring behavior, attendance and grades in ninth grade, a critical point where many future dropouts fall through the cracks as they transition from middle school to high school. ” said the Post.

A Johns Hopkins researcher said that while some kids drop out of high school to get jobs or because of pregnancy, the largest group is often students who fall behind in ninth grade and never catch up.

The Post reported that Alabama and West Virginia have hired outside vendors to identify at-risk students. They shared information with teachers that helped them pinpoint exactly what was holding kids back in class or causing poor results.

Ultimately, one researcher said the work simply involved “lots of problem solving and little effort to help students stay on track.” But such rapid improvement should be cause for skepticism and fact-checking.

Here’s one check: Census Bureau statistics rank both Alabama and West Virginia “comfortably near the top for the fastest growth in the share of young people with a high school diploma over the past decade,” the Post reported.

The researchers also found no efforts by states to artificially boost graduation rates. However, the Post noted that in 2013, Alabama dropped the high school diploma requirement, one of many states that did so in the belief that it was hurting lower-scoring students without providing a clear advantage.

It turns out that states that kept the exam requirement saw a slightly larger increase in graduation rates. However, one of the researchers noted that graduation rates may decrease: Students who stay in school gain knowledge in several subjects. This can only help them in the future.

The website featured a graph of the growing wage gap between dropout wages and the US median wage. In 1975, college dropouts earned 72% of the median wage. In 2020, they earned just 49%. This underscores the importance of a high school diploma, and Alabama and West Virginia may have some lessons that other states can copy.

— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal


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