Too good to believe?

First Posted: 8/10/2013

The good news about high school graduation rates in Robeson County is that they continue to climb, and now surpass the state average.

We worry that is also the bad news as it certainly begs for a closer examination.

The state last week released graduation rates for all the school systems, and the information showed that for the fifth straight year Robeson County’s rate had improved, and that 85 percent of the freshmen who entered high school during the 2009-10 school year had graduated four years later.

That is better than the 82 percent state average — and represents an eye-opening 66 percent increase in the Robeson County rate from 2008, when the rate was among the worst in the state at 51 percent. We will guess without looking that no other county in North Carolina — and perhaps all across the United States — can demonstrate the same or even similar improvement during that time. It wouldn’t be hard to find a social scientist who would conclude that such an improvement would be statistically impossible without standards being modified.

We hate to rain on the parade, but how was this achieved? This county’s demographics haven’t turned over; we remain impoverished and high minority, factors that work hard against a rate that would be higher than the state’s. And we are talking about essentially the same educators and students.

We know that Johnny Hunt, when he became the schools superintendent in 2006, targeted the high drop-out rate, understanding the value of a high school diploma in finding employment. He was understandably pleased with last week’s news.

“I attribute the graduate rate increase to a collaborative effort of everyone at schools and central administration working together to assist students and to help them graduate on schedule,” Hunt said.

One of the system’s initiatives is LAP — an acronym for the Learning Acceleration Plan — that targets students in grades ninth through 12th whose behavior identifies them as being at-risk, and provides them with tutoring and counseling to increase the likelihood of graduation. We have no doubt that LAP has rerouted more than one student in a positive direction.

That said, we have been told by multiple educators who will not speak for the record that LAP is not always rigorous, and that in some instances diplomas are merely being handed out.

Our intent is not to indict LAP, local teachers or administrators. But we do hope that a strategic decision has not been made that society benefits from sending an 18-year-old off with a diploma whether it’s been earned or not — which could be the product of state educational standards that have become increasingly goal-oriented.

We believe our Board of Education should call for scrutiny of our graduation rates to make sure that standards aren’t being sacrificed. Absent that, what seems too good to believe, probably won’t be.