State School Superintendent Candidates Comment on Graduation Rates

The Republican candidates in the Georgia State School Superintendent race recently faced off in a debate. Among the questions was one asking if the GED should be included in graduation rates. Frankly, I’m horrified by their answers. Nancy Jester was the only candidate who knew her stuff. Looking at the responses, she’s the only one qualified for the job. Watch the video or read the transcript and judge for yourself.

Kira Willis
Yes we should. The GED is a graduate equivalent diploma. Although the military doesn’t accept it, you know who does, technical institutes. In fact, Lanier Tech offers a GED class. So, when you pass it you can go to Lanier Tech.

So, I don’t understand that. I don’t think the GED is a walk of shame. I think it gets a child where he or she needs to be quicker and faster and they’re done. And, they leave with a high school diploma. I also believe, as a high school student, I believe in the ‘D’. Does anybody remember the ‘D’ here in Georgia? I do. We had Ds. So, you’ve got a child, if a passing is 70, and the child gets a 69.4, they fail. That doesn’t make any sense to me. We’re .6 away from passing. But grading and integrity, we need to make sure teachers keep their grades with integrity.

Matt Schultz
The graduation rate thing drives me crazy to be honest with you because it’s measured in so many different ways across the country. It’s very difficult to know how you stack up against one state to the other. The same thing with SAT scores. You hear all the time that Georgia’s in the 40s with SAT scores, but nobody bothers to talk about participation rates. Georgia has one of the highest participation rates in SATs around the country. And if you factor in our participation rate, we go from 37 to 11 in performance.

So, what I’ll tell you is that I think a lot of times we get too wrapped up on trying to have these little metrics. What I would rather us do … I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the GED. I’ll be honest with you. What I would like to make sure is that we have students graduating within one semester of their class. I think that should certainly be counted. A lot of our folks get in trouble that way.

One of the things that we have done in our community to be successful with graduation rates is “Credit Recovery”. We tried graduation coaches and different things, but working with students to do credit recovery. We had to change some of our policies and say, you know what, you don’t need to take that 5th P.E. class. We’re going to let you go pick up that math you blew off when you were a freshman, so that kid has a chance to graduate on time.

The biggest thing we have to look at kid by kid, student by student, and make sure we are putting them in the best position to be successful. And, I still think part of that is going to be making sure we identify those kids who need to graduate our high school with a technical skill. We can do more to retain students that way than any other action that we can take outside of maybe continuing to invest in online opportunities, especially credit recovery.

Fitz Johnson
To answer your questions, Yes and Yes. The GED should be a part of graduation rates. I echo those sentiments. I get so frustrated when I hear about where we are as far as graduation rates. We all want to do better on graduation rates. But, if we are consistently and constantly looking over our shoulder, and we don’t even know if we are measuring our graduation rates with Tennessee’s graduation rates with California’s graduation rates. We’re not comparing apples to apples.

What we have to do is concentrate on what we’re doing here right here in the state of Georgia, making sure that we are reaching out to those children and making sure individually they are reaching their potential and reaching the standards to support a high school diploma. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re going to do.

Nancy Jester
I’m sort of surprised by my fellow candidate answers here because we are comparing apples to apples. We now use a new federally mandated measurement for 4 Year Cohort. So, they don’t calculate it different ways in different states. It is exactly the same way we measure it. It is right now the only statistic we have where we can really compare apples to apples. So, that’s why it’s illustrative.

And, I’m not going to give you any excuses. I’m not going to wring my hands and say, “Well, I get upset when we talk about it.” I want talk about it because when we weren’t talking about it, we were telling everybody we had 80% graduation rates and we didn’t. We had 67% graduation rates. This is a problem. This is a very important statistic. It is the only one we have right now that shows us who’s getting it done and who isn’t. Because, the CRCT, that’s not nationally normed. We can’t compare. That’s an apples to bananas comparison. So, we can’t do that. This is very important and it speaks to how we have failed. We have failed to make education relevant. And, we have failed to even get kids to stay in school until they graduate. They do calculate a nationally normed 5 Year Cohort graduation rate, but we are in the same boat there. So, you can take your pick. I use the 4 Year Cohort rate, because I think we should be able to do that. I’m not an excuse maker. I will not make an excuse. I will say that over and over and I’m really surprised that folks here don’t know that that is a nationally normed apples to apples comparison. I know that and I won’t run away from that. Thank you.

Mary Kay Bacallao
I was going to say something a little bit different too. What we’re doing in the state of Georgia, it seems like it’s coming from the State Department of Education. It’s really passed through from the … all the shots are being called by the U.S. Department of Ed. So that needs to change. And, including how we calculate graduation rates. I’m not saying we should hide from anything about graduation rates. My dad taught GED for many years. GED is great. People that want to get it can just get it done. That’s a great thing.

But, we really need to look at our state. What does our state want to do? Because that graduation rate, it’s in this whole convoluted student achievement school report card that doesn’t directly measure student achievement. So, all of that … we don’t have any …. you gotta know if you’re going to start doing something, what you can and cannot do. It’s all controlled by the US DOE. That’s not the way it should be.

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2 responses to “State School Superintendent Candidates Comment on Graduation Rates

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