According to a report by the Colorado Department of Education, San Luis Valley schools graduated 83 percent of their seniors in 2012. This is an excellent number that says Valley schools are not failing many students.
If we think of 83 percent in the terms of an “A” through “F” scale, Valley schools score a low “B” or above average. The Valley Courier headline that adorned the news piece associated with this study said, “SLV graduation averages top state numbers.” It’s not often that the SLV is recognized for a high rank in Colorado schools. That said, it is an interesting thought that SLV schools top graduation rates, yet many of these schools continue to struggle on standardized tests and continually find themselves on the lower end of state performance rankings. Which begs the question – why are so many students graduating from SLV schools despite low performance?
To be clear, there are SLV schools that have high performance ranks. But, it should not surprise anyone in the SLV when a number of schools receive poor performance evaluations when compared to other Colorado schools.
SLV schools have been working for years to bring test scores up and to bring overall student performance up. The SLV, unlike many areas in Colorado, has an abundance of issues that lead to low performance, specifically a lack of money and students that come from lower income families. Studies show that these two elements have as much to do with student performance as anything else. Simply, our students have less means of buying personal materials that enhance learning and our schools have less money to buy supplies, increase library sizes, and update textbooks. So, our issues of low performance are not that our teachers are failing – as some people would have us believe. Rather, most SLV schools do not have the means of acquiring the proper learning instruments of today’s complex world. Still, the issue here is not low performance.
Instead, the issue is high graduation rates despite low performance. A couple of purposes for schools are to prepare students for college, to prepare students for employment after high school, and to prepare students to be contributing members of society. We must ask, then, by being near the state’s top graduation ranks despite low performance ranks, are our schools doing a disservice to some students by giving them a diploma?
There should be no confusion between wanting students to succeed and helping students succeed. In our current state of culture, we give children too much. We live in a culture where failure is an option because it would be improper to let students and children know that they are failing. In other words, we perpetuate failure because we make it ok.
By believing in a mantra or slogan of “no child left behind” we leave many children behind. Instead of failing students who have not grasped concepts, we pass them on because they tried hard. These are bad policies.
On the surface, it looks good to have SLV schools at the top of the graduation rates list. If you peal away some layers, however, scars will surface. We should not top the graduation rates when performance is low. Instead, it should be our duty to make students who perform low, try again. Learning and being ready for the next step in life is not about having the physical diploma. Rather, being prepared for college or the work world or to be a contributing member of society, students need knowledge and an understanding of concepts learned in high school. It’s our duty to prepare students not to graduate students.