School & District Management Opinion

Improving Graduation Rates: The Push Out/Pull In Dilemma

By Eduwonkette — March 20, 2008 1 min read

Today’s NYT article on graduation rates touches briefly on the push out problem. But there’s another approach to improving grad rates that has run rampant in NYC - awarding credit even after students fail courses. Seat time credit has received some play (see these old posts from Edwize and NYC Educator), but there’s an important story waiting to be written about how schools have changed failing course grades if students attended tutoring or completed independent projects.

None of these tactics is necessarily problematic from an educational standpoint. In fact, offering multiple chances may be an important way to keep a reluctant and at-risk population attached to school. But they should challenge how we view changes in the graduation rate in NYC. It’s also an awkward juxtaposition with test-based grade retention in grades 3, 5, 7, and now 8.

On the pushout issue, take a look at this recent paper by Linda McNeil and colleagues, “Avoidable Losses: High-Stakes Accountability and the Dropout Crisis.” The quantitative part of the study doesn’t do a good job of separating the portion of the dropout problem attributable to high-stakes accountability from that which predated accountability. Nonetheless, the qualitative section has some gems about the tradeoffs principals face when they are asked to increase test scores and graduation rates simultaneously, i.e. one principal said:

It’s not a miracle to manipulate things. A miracle is saving kids actually, in reality—that’s what miracles are. To go out and get these kids who were dropped out, or to get kids who are not achieving and find ways. That’s a miracle to get all of it to do that. It’s not to manipulate things so that it appears—it’s a facade.

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