Social promotion enabled by watered-down diplomas

By Jim Waters - Bluegrass Beacon


Parents nationwide are taking to social media to express their voluminous frustration with ludicrous math exercises introduced by public schools as a consequence of the much—and deservedly—maligned Common Core State Standards.

They know these exercises don’t serve their kids well.

However, our students aren’t the only ones challenged by current public-education math.

Take, for instance, the “math” involved in solving the “story problem” involving incredible high school graduation rates reported by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

Since Common Core’s Amen Corner loves multi-part questions, we offer some different aspects of the Bluegrass State’s graduation equation:

Part one: The KDE’s claims of remarkable improvement in graduation rates for the past three years are based on a new, supposedly more-accurate calculation.

The KDE’s report that the on-time high school graduation rate for the Class of 2015 was a sky high 88 percent—well above the national average—was given a roaring shout-out by those desperate for tangible victories related to their progressively fuzzy math ideology that’s increasingly applied to teaching and learning, including Bill and Melinda Gates.

Part two: Education commissioner Stephen Pruitt also crowed about these high graduation rates in a printed addendum accompanying his recent 2016 State of K-12 Public Education in Kentucky address.

Pruitt claims the results are because the commonwealth is among a limited group of states requiring Algebra II for high-school graduation.

No calculator is needed to determine that if his conclusions are mathematically sound, the passing rate on Kentucky’s Algebra II End-of-Course exams would be running at least close to 88 percent. Right?

Part three: The percentage of students scoring “Proficient or Above” on the Algebra II exam has never exceeded 38 percent.

While I didn’t do so well amongst a group of math hotshots already performing at college level in Mr. Leach’s Algebra class, even I can figure out that something’s not adding up here.

How can Kentucky claim a high school graduation rate of 88 percent based on diplomas that supposedly require Algebra II when only 38 percent of students pass that test each year?

Hint: Can you say “social promotion to hollow diplomas?”

For extra credit: If Algebra II is essential for success in today’s economy, what’s going to happen to the 88-minus-38-equals-50-percent of Kentucky’s kids who don’t master this critical course?

Super bonus question: Should our education leaders be crowing about this state of Kentucky’s public-education affairs?

The Algebra II flop isn’t the only indication that the real standards behind Kentucky’s high school diplomas are faulty.

Here’s another multi-part math problem that again begins with the fact that the KDE reports an 88 percent on-time graduation rate for 2015, which means that for every 100 entering ninth-grade students in the class, 88 graduated in four years.

Part one: The KDE’s own numbers say about 67 percent of those 88 graduates qualify as adequately prepared for college and/or careers.

Part two: Less than 67 percent of those 88 graduates means fewer than 59 out of every 100 entering ninth-grade students actually got diplomas that might prove of real value.

Too many education policymakers don’t seem to be doing the math related to this issue, presumably because they believe the watered-down diplomas they’re handing out at commencement ceremonies are meaningful.


By Jim Waters

Bluegrass Beacon

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at

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