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Diploma in Hand, But Ready for What's Next?

Graduation rates are a central measure of success for all school systems, including AACPS. I’m acutely aware of what the numbers mean as my daughter is about to graduate from Annapolis High School.

High school graduation is an important milestone in life; it is a significant accomplishment for all students. Graduating is also an indicator of the future trajectory of a student’s life. For example, the proportion of incarcerated Marylanders who do not have high school diplomas far exceeds the proportion in the broader population. This statistic indicates graduating from high school with a plan to become a responsible member of society is an important marker for future success.

AACPS graduation rates have continued to increase overall, though there was a slight decrease from 89.2 percent in 2018 to 88.3 percent in 2019. Unfortunately, at the same time the opportunity gap has widened. Low-income African American and Latino students have fallen further behind their white and Asian counterparts.

The graduation rate, however, is not enough to tell us whether students are leaving AACPS truly prepared for the next steps in their lives, whether it be careers or college. The information contained in the Maryland State Report Card for Annapolis High School for the 2018-2019 academic year suggests critical discrepancies. The four-year graduation rate for Annapolis High is 86.6 percent. But proficiency rates appear to tell a very different story. For all Annapolis High students, the average proficiency rates for math and English language are 42.7 percent and 53.3 percent, respectively. Those numbers are both quite a distance from the graduation rate.

The take-away here is that while schools need to work to encourage as many students as possible to graduate, that achievement only will have real meaning for students — and their communities — if their diplomas truly represent the acquisition of necessary literacy and numeracy skills needed for success in a knowledge-based economy.

To tackle the issues of graduation and proficiency, I propose the following:

Make available high-quality pre-school to children whose families can’t afford it. The earlier students are exposed to the social and emotional skills necessary to begin learning, the better they are likely to do in kindergarten and beyond.

Invest in early tutoring and interventions for students who are struggling. The earlier teachers, tutors, and special education teachers can assess and provide appropriate supports to children who are manifesting difficulties, the more likely those students are to succeed.

Incentivize schools and administrators correctly. If passing children through grades so that graduation rates can be a measure for AACPS success is emphasized, without appropriate attention to proficiency rates, then schools run the risk of valuing grade advancement over real learning and, by extension, assuring career and college readiness.

Extend and integrate vocational and technical training. College may not be the appropriate path for every student. The choice to pursue vo-tech education, instead of college prep, must be respected and never viewed as a “lesser” goal. More importantly, just as vo-tech students receive some higher level of academic education, college bound students should receive some vo-tech training. This is how students become well-rounded to lead fulfilled, productive lives and to become contributing citizens in their communities.

Develop measures for outcomes at intervals beyond graduation, including 2-years, 4-years, 6-years and 10-years. In the public health environment such long-term, longitudinal work has been done for a very long time. The processes and mechanisms are available. Only by tracking the real outcomes for AACPS graduates beyond graduation can we know if the initiatives the schools are pursuing are actually working.

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