NOW is the time! The State Board of Education and others interested in transparency should request the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to disaggregate the 2015 graduation rate by pathway of obtaining the diploma.

In 2006 DPI started reporting a four-year graduation rate, and since then the graduation rate has increased 15.6 percentage points. Based on trends, I am sure the 2015 graduation rate will probably be even higher. However, during this time DPI has also allowed districts to incorporate different ways to obtain a diploma.

One way a student can obtain enough credits for graduation is through a program called “credit recovery.” I wrote about this pathway back in 2014.

The graduation rate of 83.8 stands out as an achievement, but the room was quiet when a board member asked questions about the quality of the “credit recovery” classes. Credit recovery comes about when a student fails a class and is given the opportunity to take the class another way in order to receive credits needed for graduation.  This pathway has become more popular in recent years, but the agency does NOT disaggregate the data to show HOW many students graduate with “credit recovery.”  This begs the question whether more students are graduating the traditional way – when you fail a course you take the course again – OR the rate is increasing because of the quick on-line credit recovery pathway? No one knows.

Yesterday the American Enterprise Institute posted an article about this same topic from a national perspective:

For many students, their grades have become participation trophies. Everyone is familiar with complaints about grade inflation; here are the numbers. Reading and math achievement have been relatively flat for 17-year-old students, with almost no change over two decades. Yet, the average GPA of high school graduates rose significantly, by a third of a letter grade or from just over a C+ to a B average. Our high schools are telling their graduates that they’re much smarter than they really are.


For many high school graduates, their degrees have become participation trophies. In response to pressures to increase graduation rates, schools and school districts have turned to a number of potentially watering-down strategies to turn potential drop-outs into graduates. One surging strategy, credit recovery programs, offers students alternative means to gain credits required to graduate. Many of the credit recovery options are online classes, the quality of which is, ahem, uncertain. Like other programs designed to retain students, such as age-old summer school programs and correspondence courses, if the quality of instruction is low, such programs can be an end run around high educational standards. Watered-down diplomas are another empty promise, where our high schools are telling students they are ready to succeed in the world – when often they are not.

In  North Carolina, one could look at ACT data possibly suggesting the graduation rate and the diploma are awards of attending school rather than knowledge acquired. BEST NC uses this data to illustrate the crisis in our state:

100% of NC 2013 Graduating Class took the ACT

17% of 2013 Graduating Class met the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks

49% of 2013 Graduating Class did not meet any ACT Benchmarks.

NOW is the time for the State Board of Education and others to request from DPI the percentage of students graduating in 2015 with “Credit Recovery” classes. Then maybe in October, when graduation rate data is made public, everyone will have a better understanding of how increases occur.