Increased Graduation Rates Fail to Predict Positive Outcomes for Minorities

As schools and colleges across the nation prepare to begin instruction in the coming weeks, many are assessing the educational progress of American students. Educational data released this past summer depicts a mixed picture of the challenges and achievements of America’s student population. One of the most positive stories from the summer has been the rising graduation rates among minority high school students. 

Education Week’s Editorial Projects in Education Research Center reports that high school graduation rates hit a 40 year high in 2010, (the latest year in which data is available). In 2010, the rate reached nearly 75 percent, which is the highest percentage of students graduating from high school since 1973.

The research center reports that gains made by minority students have helped boost overall U.S. graduation rates. In fact, Hispanics enjoyed the greatest boost in graduation rates, as their graduation rate jumped 16 points during the course of the decade and now stands at 68 percent. African-Americans made similar gains, as their graduation rate rose 13 points to rest at 62 percent in 2010. Asians experienced a 5 percent increase to 81 percent, while Native Americans experienced a 3 percent rise to 51 percent. 

Whites also made significant gains during the same period, as they experienced a six percent boost and now enjoy an 80 percent graduation rate. While this news is promising, heavily urban and minority-concentrated areas still suffer from disproportionately high dropout rates. The Center named Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and New York City as school systems having the highest dropout rates. 

The latest figures have generated a healthy amount of skepticism among public school critics and opponents of President Obama’s educational policies. Some allege that students may not actually be learning more, but rather that watered-down curriculum and generally low standards may have amplified these figures.

Despite gains in high school graduation rates, minority students did not post the same gains in college completion rates that they demonstrated in high school. For example, of those African-Americans entering college in 1996, 38.9 percent graduated with a diploma in six years. For those entering college in 2004, 39.5 percent of those graduating by 2010 were likely to hold a diploma. Other minority groups experienced more substantial gains during this period, with Asians posting the highest graduation rates and the greatest gains during the period.

Another cause of concern is that while graduation rates are climbing, albeit slightly for some groups, studies show these students have not demonstrated marked improvement on standardized tests. The latest figures released by the American College Testing company (ACT) on Wednesday, August 22nd finds that American students actually did worse on the ACT standardized test in 2013 than in 2012. The national average for 2013 was 20.9, down from 21.1 in 2012. This is the first time the national ACT average score has dropped below 21 in eight years. 

The ACT, administered to over 1.8 million college-bound students every year, tests college readiness of basic subjects such as English, math, reading, and science reasoning. The ACT deems 22 in reading, 23 in science, 18 in English, and a 22 in math to be its "college-ready" benchmark scores. In its Wednesday report, ACT estimated that only 26 percent of test-takers are prepared for college. While this figure is shocking in itself, ACT also reports that minority students remain woefully underprepared, with just 5, 10 and 14 percent of black, American Indian and Hispanic students demonstrating college readiness respectively. 

Although the latest boosts in graduation rates may bode well for some, the recent data show troubling results, especially for those who are still falling behind. The low performance of minority students and the lack of improvement suggest that although more students are graduating, America’s educational system is still failing to make the grade. 


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