SEVERAL school administrators and state Rep. Jerry McPeak called last week for effectively gutting the law requiring Oklahoma high school seniors to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams to get a diploma. The tests are in Algebra I, English II, Algebra II, geometry, English III, biology or U.S. history.
The law already allows for a number of alternatives to the tests, but the administrators want a new appeals process, presumably for mass waivers making the whole law meaningless.
Unintentionally, however, their arguments illustrate why graduation standards are so important.
McPeak, D-Warner, noted that 17 seniors in the Sand Springs district had failed to pass their tests as of last March. He said four of those students lived “on their own” and had jobs, two were teen parents, two were homeless, six had repeated a previous grade, one attended five school districts in a single year and 14 were “economically disadvantaged.”
But McPeak let it slip that all but “three or four” had since passed their graduation tests. So Oklahoma's diploma requirements incentivized a group of homeless, low-income, teen parents to master high school learning — and this is a bad thing? Rather than supporting repeal, that graphically illustrates how high standards benefit students with the greatest need.
At the news conference, test critic and Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller was introduced as “an officer in the United States Marines” and “Major Miller.” As it happens, a high school diploma won't get you in the military; applicants must take a test.
A 2010 Education Trust report, which examined the military aptitude test battery results from 2004 to 2009, found that 23.2 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates didn't meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist in the Army, with 39.5 percent of black applicants from Oklahoma failing.
Miller's opposition to graduation tests could mean many students won't be able to follow his own path in the armed forces. How is that a good thing?
Miller also complained that graduation tests haven't been reviewed by the Educational Quality and Accountability Board. However, that board has no real authority and is just another report-generating government group. And Miller notably didn't identify any actual problems with the tests, which already go through multiple layers of review. In fact, the state Department of Education often hires a second vendor to review the work of the first vendor to ensure rigor and accuracy in state testing.
Predictably, Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman was among those opposing graduation standards, which lawmakers approved seven years ago.We wonder: If Lehman were as indifferent to athletic achievement on the football field as he is about academic achievement, would he last another week on the job?
In the real world, giving a child a diploma without giving him an education does no good. Instead of opposing accountability, we wish these administrators would focus on student achievement.
Out of 30,497 seniors, only 2,040 had not successfully completed their EOIs as of April 23, a pass rate of 93 percent. And the number is climbing.
That's a success story, not a cause for alarm.