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More changes needed to up graduation rates

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To graduate from high school in Indiana, students must pass the state’s algebra and English end-of-course assessment exams.

However, some students take the tests many times and still can’t pass one or both.

But if students clearly put in the effort to try, while also keeping their grades and attendance up, teachers and principals can appeal to the state to ensure students who deserve a diploma earn one.

Each year, more than 100 Johnson County high school seniors receive waivers from the state allowing them to receive their diplomas.

These are students who showed up to school nearly every day, maintained at least average grades, and took extra courses and joined study sessions so they could learn answers to questions on the state algebra and English assessments.

In 2011, about 7 percent of the 1,688 graduates from Johnson County high schools received graduation waivers. That rate was just below the statewide waiver rate, which was about 8 percent, or 70,422 students, and was lower than the county’s 2007 rate of 12 percent, according to data from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

School officials want the number of students who need waivers to continue to drop, which is why teachers and principals continually assess the courses and math and language arts labs that have been created for students behind in both subjects to see whether they’re working.

But they also want to be sure that students who have shown up at school, put in the work and earned passing grades also have a chance to graduate with their class, administrators said.

“It is reasonable to look and say that multiple indicators give a better representation of that student’s actual mastery, rather than just what a high-stakes test on its own may do,” Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

High school teachers and counselors review students’ ISTEP and other test scores before they arrive for the first day of high school, looking for anyone with low scores who might need extra help understanding math and language arts lessons. Typically, those students are scheduled to take multiple math or language arts courses so school officials can pinpoint exactly what lessons the students have trouble with and help them better understand those concepts.

Students who receive a graduation waiver will have that listed on their transcripts, and some college applications also ask students whether they received a waiver.

At least 19 percent of the local students who received graduation waivers in 2011 enrolled in college after graduating, according to the commission data. That would indicate that a waiver is not simply a free pass to graduation.

An improvement in the waiver rate locally is a positive sign, but we encourage local high schools to continue their efforts to reduce the rate further.

The waiver rate might be only one indicator of Johnson County educational success, but it’s a prominent one, and improvements reflect well on local efforts.

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