Does a New Jersey High School Diploma Signify Anything At All?

Here’s the start of my new column at NJ Spotlight

Last month, New Jersey’s new acting Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet described the state’s sixth year in a row of increased high school graduation rates – now 90.5 percent – as “exciting,” because it “demonstrates we are on a path toward closing our achievement gaps and achieving excellent and equitable educational opportunities for our children.”

Mr. Repollet is both right and wrong.

New Jersey is on the right track, largely due to what our schools are teaching and how they’re testing students, changes implemented by (hold the rotten tomatoes, please) the Christie administration’s Department of Education. Indeed, the percentage of children who master grade-level content is increasing each year as measured by PARCC tests, (which are highly rated by educators for quality, accessibility, and accuracy). In just the past two years, we’ve seen a 7.3 percent increase in Language Arts proficiency and a 4.9 increase in math proficiency. And our honesty gap – how easily parents can ascertain accurate information about school quality – is no longer the gaping abyss it once was, due to new school performance reports and heroic efforts by our DOE to insert teeth into the gummy federal education law called ESSA.

However, gauging the reliability of our educational compass by tracking high school graduation rates is a fool’s errand. With all due respect to commissioner Repollet, this particular metric demonstrates little about academic excellence, equity, and achievement gaps. The question – one that has dogged NJ for decades – is whether we should continue our tradition of circumventing accountability by awarding diplomas to students who haven’t mastered the content necessary to go to college or pursue a career.

Read the rest here.

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