They Graduate, But Not in Four Years

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 11, 2008 1 min read
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As the federal government has paid more attention to how graduation rates are calculated, I’ve been hearing complaints across the country from educators who say accountability systems should give schools credit for the success of students who graduate from high school, but not in four years. The group of students who take longer than four years to get a high school diploma includes a lot of English-language learners, particularly those who move to the United States and enroll in U.S. schools as teenagers.

In an article published today, “Graduating ASAP, if Not on State Timeline,” The Washington Post puts a spotlight on Latino students who get a high school diploma after more than four years of schooling. The article notes that federal regulations for the No Child Left Behind Act that were recently released require schools to measure how many 9th graders receive a diploma in four years, so that by 2011 states have graduation rates that are comparable across states.

The rules don’t provide flexibility for calculating the graduation rates for English-language learners. Researchers at the University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute have documented that even after they fall to pass California’s high school exit exam, many English-language learners in that state continue to attend class regularly, generally avoid trouble, and continue to work toward the goal of graduation. See the research paper, “Struggling to Succeed: What Happened to Seniors Who Did Not Pass the California High School Exit Exam?”

While I was visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., this fall, educators there told me they have a fair number of ELLs who graduate in five years rather than four. This issue of calculating graduation rates seems to be an example of where ELLs don’t fit very well with efforts to create uniformity.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.