The end result of universal education is for the student to successfully complete primary and secondary school and thus graduate from high school. The assumption is that a high school diploma signifies that the graduate has completed the education process to the point that the graduate can make a choice on which direction to take next: enter the workforce or other phase of life or continue into higher education. Regardless of the graduate’s choice, the educational system has fulfilled its mandate in giving the graduate the tools needed to make that choice and succeed. That is what a high school diploma signifies.
With this in mind, it is a god thing when state officials announced this week that the state would take part in a program called GradNation as part of an effort to raise the state’s graduation rate to 90% by 2020. That’s an ambitious goal as the graduation rate for 2012 was 78%. That is a five percent increase sicne 2003 but he state will have to far surpass that in order to reach its goal for 2020.
Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius are co-chairing Grad Minnesota to lead this effort. But there is other news this week that would suggest at least a moment’s caution.
It is possible that it is a coincidence, but a bill is in the state legislature that would replace the state’s graduation exams with tests that will measure if students are ready for college or a job. The benefit of standardized testing is questionable at best, but one has to wonder what the benefit will be by replacing one test with another. After all, receiving a diploma is supposed to signal a readiness for college or a job, so where exactly is the benefit of a new test?
The answer will not really be known until the details of the test are revealed. If the purpose of the test is to make it easier to graduate, then there is a serious problem, especially when considered along with the fact that only 58% of students pass the math test on their first attempt. There are school officials calling for the test to be easier since many students cannot pass it already but receive a waiver so they can graduate.
Minnesota officials state that they want to improve graduation rates. If this means “dumbing down” the requirements for a diploma, then there is a problem. They also want to close the gap in graduation rates to close the gap between the graduation rates for students of color and white students. Minnesota has one of the largest gaps in the nation for rates between white and minority students. How a new testing system is going to accomplish this is unknown unless the state uses its same biased, some would even say racist, policy of lowering requirements for minority students instead of educating them that is used on the state tests. Of course, when considering that standardized tests have an inherent racial bias, the state could use a minority test writer to help scores.
Parents and educators can only wait and see what the final result of this talking will be. One can only hope that they will do the right thing.