May 15, 2007

Graduation news

Several items of note related to high school graduation:

  1. Yesterday, the Texas House of Representatives initially approved the elimination of the 22-year-old requirement that high school graduates pass a state exam. The state senate's proposal would replace the generic achievement tests with end-of-course exams. The House proposal faces another vote today. (My personal prediction: whether the House approves it, the complete elimination of the requirement is unlikely. The Senate's proposal will probably win the day.)
  2. Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability has issued a report on what happened to graduation in Florida since the shift in the state's graduation exam from an older exam to the FCATs. The basic story: there isn't clear evidence that the shift in exams led to decreased graduation, since the cohort analysis suggests a moderate rise of graduation over the boundary years (before and after the switch). This is not a surprise to me, since the research literature is mixed, and one wouldn't expect clear evidence from a single state or the relatively crude measures available in Florida. Subtler and more interesting information about passing rates at different grades (i.e., the original test-taking vs. retakes) is buried in Tables B-2 and B-3, on p. 10. Note: the retakes are different tests in effect because they don't contain the performance items that are in the 10th grade FCAT, and there are the usual caveats on the cohort analysis given Florida's W26 problem.
  3. Secretary Spellings and Senator Kennedy co-wrote (or had co-ghostwritten?) an op-ed on the "high school dropout crisis." Flashback to my book on the subject (check available libraries): Yes, dropping out is a problem, but not necessarily for the human-capital reasons Spellings and Kennedy use. Dropping out became a headline issue in the 1960s as graduation trends were rising, because it marked when graduation became the norm for teenagers. While there are human-capital effects of education, there is no clear threshold when failing to graduate from high school has a different individual or social effect. We should be worried about the differential graduation rates for civil-rights reasons more than human-capital reasons. On that front, it's clear that the differences in graduation reflect and are part of broader inequalities in educational outcomes.

And for those who don't want to buy my 11-year-old book, there's also my article, High-Stakes Testing and the History of Graduation (2003). (Incidentally, someone on Fordham's The Gadfly staff misread the article when it came out 4 years ago, claiming that I tried to use 20th Century history to predict the effects of high-stakes tests that must be passed to earn high-school diplomas. You may not be surprised to learn that the author thinks they will cause graduation rates to decline, dropouts to rise, and confusion to persist over the "social meaning of diplomas." No, folks: That's not what I said. B- on comprehension. Aaargh, indeed.)

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Posted in Education policy on May 15, 2007 8:22 AM |