The improvement in the graduation rate for the Public Schools of Robeson County for the last two years is so steep that it’s difficult to believe.
Just three years ago, a fraction more than half of high school students in this county graduated four years after they entered ninth grade. Following the most recent school year, that percentage has risen to almost four out of five graduating — 78.8 percent, which is even better than the state average.
This has been achieved with essentially the same teachers, curriculum, students and parents in a county whose demographics stack up heavily against academic achievement. So was it something in the Lumber River?
School officials, understandably pleased, point to two things: a better tracking system and the Learning Acceleration Program.
They say that in years past this county’s schools have too often been penalized when a student transferred to another school or district yet still graduated in four years. Because that student wasn’t carefully tracked, the school where the student entered ninth grade was penalized. Better record-keeping has kept those graduates from falling through the paper crack.
But clearly the biggest booster of the improved rate is the Learning Acceleration Program, the baby of schools Superintendent Johnny Hunt. The program identifies juniors and seniors who are in danger of falling hopelessly behind in credits and ushers them into the LAP, where they can make up a lot of ground quickly — and at their own pace — through online courses that include instruction from certified teachers who move from classroom to classroom, keeping an eye on a student’s back.
It’s a wonderfully aggressive approach to a problem that required boldness, and Hunt deserves credit.
We hate to rain on the parade, but have been told privately by several educators that the program is not always rigorous, and that diplomas are being awarded to some students who have not earned them. We don’t know — but the precipitous climb in the graduation rate is guaranteed to produce skeptics.
Here is what we believe: The Learning Acceleration Program has helped some students earn — emphasis on earn — diplomas who otherwise might not have graduated, and better prepared them for what comes next, and that’s something to celebrate. We are also sure that some students are being waved ahead without having done all the necessary work. The impossible task is assigning the percentages.
It is up to the classroom teachers, and not those in the central office, to ensure that one student’s earned diploma isn’t cheapened by another’s diploma that’s wrapped in a bow. But it’s the duty of the central office — and the Board of Education — to ask the tough questions that naturally arise when a school system’s graduation rate rises 27 percentage points in such a short time.
No one benefits when academic inattentiveness is rewarded, not even those receiving the gift.