Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 12
ESSA May Require Some States to Lower Graduation Rates
he said. "We're finally being honest
about what a diploma means."
But Lovell also worries that an unintended consequence of the law is
that states could lower their regulardiploma requirements to keep their
graduation-rate numbers high.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
not be able to count its general diplomas. State officials are in talks with
the U.S. Department of Education
about that prospect. Indiana Superintendent of Schools Jennifer McCormick also reached out to Indiana's
congressional delegation for help,
saying in a letter last month that
the lower graduation rate will put
Indiana "at a national disadvantage"
and would "not reflect well upon our
state and could negatively impact our
Officials from the federal Education Department declined to discuss
how they would interpret the ESSA
language. In an email to Education
Week, a spokesman said only that the
department would provide "technical
assistance" to states as they complied with the law, and that states
can consult federal guidance issued
in January on the law's graduationrate provisions.
The preponderance language
in ESSA is only now beginning to
creep onto states' radars. The exact
number that could be affected isn't
clear, although a recent report found
that 23 states offer multiple pathways to a diploma. Many states offer
multiple types of high school diplomas, though most don't track-or
publicly report-how many students
earn each type.
In Arkansas, two-thirds of students
graduate with the state's "smart
core" diploma, and one-third earn its
less-rigorous "core" diploma.
In New York state, 4 percent of
graduates get a "local" diploma,
which isn't as rigorous as its "regents" and "advanced" diplomas.
In Oregon, 3.7 percent of students
earn a "modified" diploma, which is
intended for students with a "demonstrated inability" to meet all the
state's academic expectations.
"The idea is to create a pathway
toward a diploma for students with
significant challenges," Jennell Ives,
a program specialist with Oregon's
Mississinewa High School seniors file
in for graduation practice in Gas City,
Ind. The state is among those that
might have to revise graduation rates
You could see this
as being about states
that have to lower
their graduation rates,
or about trying to be
honest about our
Alliance for Excellent Education
12 | EDUCATION WEEK | August 30, 2017 | www.edweek.org
department of education, explained
in an email.
Diplomas that signify less-thanrigorous academic preparation,
however, were the express target of
the new requirement in ESSA. No
such language was in the previous
version of the law, the No Child Left
"We were trying to address concerns about those weaker diplomas,
to put a signal in there to drive states
to make sure that diplomas were really preparing students for success,"
said a Senate aide who helped draft
the Every Student Succeeds Act.
'Make the Most Difference'
Advocates for lower-income and
minority students, and those with
disabilities, were key voices at the
table when that section of the bill
was being drafted. Those students
tend to earn disproportionate shares
of the lower-level diplomas.
"We wanted the language in ESSA
to make the most difference for
those students," said Laura Kaloi,
who participated in the talks on
behalf of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a specialeducation advocacy group.
By inserting the preponderance
language into ESSA, its authors
pushed federal law into a new area:
linking graduation rates to the quality of the diplomas, not just to how
many diplomas are awarded.
A 2008 regulation broke new
ground by requiring all states to
calculate graduation rates the same
way: by counting the proportion of
entering freshmen who completed
school four years later.
That regulation also ventured into
new territory by tackling the related
idea of which diplomas should be
counted. It said states could count
only "regular" diplomas, not alternative or equivalency credentials.
The concept of diploma quality
was on policymakers' minds as they
sat down to write the accountability
section of the Every Student Succeeds Act. There was "a lot of bipartisan agreement" that the idea
of counting only regular diplomas
should finally be written into federal
law, the Senate aide said.
"This is new. For a long time, federal officials have been focusing on
graduation rates without caring
what a diploma actually means,"
said Michael Cohen, who was the
assistant secretary of elementary
and secondary education under
President Bill Clinton and now
heads Achieve, a group that has researched the wide variety in states'
Allowing states to report graduation rates based only on regular diplomas, and diplomas that require
more rigorous study, is long overdue,
according to Lovell of the Alliance
for Excellent Education.
States could well feel the sting of
public disapproval if they have to
revise their graduation rates downward, but the resulting shift in message justifies the discomfort, he said.
"The statute calls for honesty,"
Other consequences are already unfolding, showing up first in Indiana.
The state has long been recognized as a leader in getting students
to complete college-prep courses of
study: 88 percent take the four years
of English and three years of math-
through Algebra 2-that are widely
viewed as a "college-ready" curricula.
Yet Indiana might have to pay the
price of lowering its graduation rate
because it chose not to require collegeprep study for all. That situation
strikes Cohen as creating "perverse
incentives" for states to award lessrigorous diplomas to a "preponderance" of their students.
"States that do the best job of getting kids to take advanced coursework could be the ones at greatest risk under this policy," he said.
"They've succeeded their way into
Lovell begs to differ. "You could see
this as being about states that have
to lower their graduation rates or
about trying to be honest about our
graduation rates," he said. "Indiana
is stepping up and being honest."
Activists may differ on whether
the preponderance requirements
in ESSA are a step in the right direction. But they agree on another,
more ironic truth, which is that the
law will fall short of ensuring that
all high school diplomas mean students are ready to do well in college.
Even among the many states that
offer only one type of diploma, what
students achieved to earn that diploma can vary wildly. Still, those
states are unlikely to be affected by
the preponderance requirement of
ESSA, since all students earn the
In Massachusetts, for instance,
77 percent of students complete
a course of study that reflects the
expectations of the University of
Massachusetts. The rest finish high
school with other assortments of
courses. Yet all students earn the
same diploma, said state education
department spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis.
The same situation holds true in
Maryland, where most students finish
coursework geared to state university
requirements, and the rest don't, but
all walk across the graduation stage
with the same type of diploma.
In Oklahoma, students are automatically placed in the collegeready curriculum and remain there
unless they opt into a less-rigorous
one. But only the tougher course
of study requires three years of
math-through Algebra 2. And all
Oklahoma students earn the same
high school diploma, a state education department spokeswoman said.
Visit the HIGH SCHOOL & BEYOND blog,
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - August 30, 2017
Education Week - August 30, 2017
Delayed Start to School Tough Call for Parents
More Americans Give Top Grades To Schools in Latest PDK Poll
An Unlikely ESSA Provision: Warning on Copyright Piracy
Grad. Rate Rule Creates Quandary for States
State Chiefs’ Pay Squeezed Between Duties, Politics
News in Brief
For Most Students, Closing Failing Schools Doesn’t Help
Obama-Era School Snack Rules Slow to Change Students’ Habits
The District Where Principals Run Their Schools—and Teach
Teacher Fellows Tread Fine Line At Ed. Dept
Federal Judge Finds ‘Racial Animus’ In Ariz. Ethnic-Studies Ban
How States Will Slice ESSA Block-Grant Pie
Hiring Deals Include More Than Base Pay
Monique Darrisaw-Akil: We Can Fix Credit Recovery
Bernard Gassaway: Public School Officials Are Artificially Inflating Graduation Rates. I’ve Seen It Myself
John Kline: ESSA Co-Author: Enforce the Law
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Miriam Kurtzig Freedman: Is the SAT Still Valid?
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - State Chiefs’ Pay Squeezed Between Duties, Politics
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 2
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 3
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 5
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Obama-Era School Snack Rules Slow to Change Students’ Habits
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - The District Where Principals Run Their Schools—and Teach
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Teacher Fellows Tread Fine Line At Ed. Dept
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 9
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 10
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 11
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 12
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 13
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - How States Will Slice ESSA Block-Grant Pie
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 15
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 16
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Hiring Deals Include More Than Base Pay
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Bernard Gassaway: Public School Officials Are Artificially Inflating Graduation Rates. I’ve Seen It Myself
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - John Kline: ESSA Co-Author: Enforce the Law
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 21
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 23
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Miriam Kurtzig Freedman: Is the SAT Still Valid?
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW4