"The Education Pipeline in the United States, 1970-2000," compares school enrollment data by grade from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics.
Study finds falling grad rates, sets blame
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - With the rising use of standardized exams to measure school performance, ninth grade is becoming a watershed moment at many schools.
Increasingly, educators say, students at risk of failing pivotal tests commonly given in the 10th and 11th grades are being held back, sometimes more than once. Frequently, such students become so discouraged that they drop out.
The impact is evident in a significant nationwide bulge in students enrolled in ninth grade and a tripling of the attrition between the ninth and 10th grades over the last 30 years, according to a report by Walter Haney of Boston College.
"The implications are not only dire for these individual students, but dire for society at large," Haney said.
The report, "The Education Pipeline in the United States, 1970-2000," compares school enrollment data by grade from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics. It found that four-year high-school graduation rates steadily rose in the early 1980s, but declined in the 1990s.
The slide occurred just as President Clinton and Congress ushered in the school accountability measures strengthened in the No Child Left Behind Act, and set a national goal of raising the four-year graduation rate to 90 percent by 2000. Instead, the share of on-time graduations declined by four percentage points, to 74.4 percent in 2000-01 from 78.4 percent in 1991-92, according to Haney's study.
The report calculates that while 3.4 million students were enrolled in the eighth grade in the 1996-97 school year, 871,000 of them failed to graduate from high school in four years. If the graduation rate of the early 1990s had remained, 135,000 more of those eighth-graders would have graduated.
Haney contends that the overall decline in graduation rates is the result of two trends: increasing course requirements and growing demands that high-school students pass specific standardized tests to receive a diploma.
"The benign explanation is that this whole standards and reform movement was implemented in an ill-conceived manner," Haney said.
John Robert Warren, a professor of education at the University of Minnesota, said he agreed with the basic findings in Haney's report but not with Haney's conclusions. Warren contended that falling graduation rates could be due to changing demographics, not tougher course work or exit exams.
"The two things we really know contribute to dropouts are poverty and recent Hispanic immigrants," he said. He said the declines also have to do with a dwindling commitment among politicians and the public "to making sure that every kid has access to a decent education."
By Diana Jean Schemo
THE NEW YORK TIMES
January 18, 2004
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