According to a recent investigation by WAMU radio in Washington, D.C., and National Public Radio, Ballou High School officials graduated dozens of students in the Class of 2017 who should have failed their courses, had poor attendance, or didn’t meet other graduation requirements. On the surface, this seems like an embarrassment unique to Ballou. But this scandal is a symptom of a much bigger problem across the country: Improving high school graduation rates seems to mean more to some school and district leaders than the quality of education that students receive.
Holding schools accountable for graduation rates began in the No Child Left Behind era, when high schools got sanctioned for missing their goals. But states often used single-year rates, rather than counting the number of graduates against the entering freshman class four years earlier. Such a rate failed to catch transfers and dropouts who left prior to their senior year.This article was originally published in The 74.