I am writing this letter in response to Imperial Police Chief Miguel Colon’s recent Voice of the People letter on Sept. 9. Mr. Colon writes in support of Senate Bill 547, which will change the criteria on how California high schools are evaluated to assess performance. SB 547 will include high school graduation rates in evaluating a high school’s successfulness.
I take exception to Mr. Colon’s implication that teachers and administrators are not already doing everything in their power to assist students in graduating. In fact, the attempt by educational administrators to improve the graduation rates of our high school students has actually come at the determent of those students we are attempting to help. With all of the best of intentions, school administrators have created a watering down of the academic standards and brought into question the integrity of a high school diploma in the state of California.
Every parent is aware of the age-old ritual of making up failing grades through summer school. Unfortunately, school administrators have gone beyond summer school with their newest intervention and now allow students to make up failing grades through a program called “credit recovery.” Credit recovery is an online program where students sit in a computer lab and take an online course corresponding to the subject they failed during the semester. Students attend the class for one hour a day either in the morning or after school depending on their respective high school. Students can also take credit recovery during summer school. I have spoken to students who have told me they can make up an entire 18-week semester in less than four weeks. Keep in mind there is no direct instruction, the class is monitored by a teacher but all work is done on the computer. In the case of English, there is no writing component within the course work. Credit recovery has none of the academic rigors that come with a traditional classroom setting. It is preposterous to believe that a student can receive the same instruction and attain the same academic knowledge from an online course than through direct instruction of a classroom teacher who will challenge the student with a rigorous curriculum.
So the question is why anyone should care that school administrators are using credit recovery to assist high school students to graduate. The reason we should care as a society is because too many of our students are graduating with high school diplomas that are worthless. To support this I offer a study by Education Trust, reporting that 23 percent of high school graduates taking the military’s entrance exam known as the ASVAB failed. The ASVAB failure rate is at an all-time high. As further evidence one only has to look at our graduates who are enrolling at the California State University system. Fifty percent of incoming CSU freshmen failed the English placement test and had to take a remedial English course. Furthermore, 36 percent of CSU incoming freshmen failed the entry-level mathematics test and had to take a remedial math class. Please keep in mind that we are talking about California’s top high school students who are forced to take remedial classes because they can’t pass basic entrance exams.
Mr. Colon’s comments in Voice of the People were well-intentioned, but misguided. High school administrators are already doing too much in accommodating high school students to ensure that they pass. So much so that it is compromising the integrity of a high school diploma. Instead of focusing on graduation rates, the main focus should be placed on ensuring that high school students are receiving the highest quality education possible and that graduating with a high school diploma means that a student has mastered the academic skills necessary to advance to college, vocational school or at the very least find gainful employment in society.
William Estes is an educator at Imperial.