Failing Academic Standards: Are Today’s Graduates Really Educated?

America’s new academic standards are failing our students. Despite what official transcripts say, I’m concerned many graduates did not earn their diploma.

As a seasoned high school teacher and college professor pondering my 14th graduation ceremony, I couldn’t help wondering how many students around the country will graduate with a high school or college degree, but not an education.

It’s no secret we have a terrible illiteracy problem. But what I address here goes beyond illiteracy and marches smack through the front door of an academic house of cards. Inside, my colleagues and I share deep concerns about failing students who graduate only because of failing academic standards.

Ignored Assignments

It seems self-evident the primary purpose of attending school is to gain an education. Traditionally, course materials relevant to the course objectives are provided to facilitate learning. Of course, students must engage with these course materials, yet many students skip assignments.

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Most colleges require courses to be kept on a class webpage hosted by a Learning Management System (LMS) whereby systems such as Moodle, Blackboard, or Edmodo give instructors the ability to monitor student activity in the course. Missed assignments get marked “never viewed.” Thus, we know which students ignore specific class resources. Those with a lot of “never viewed” notices typically perform poorly in class, but some hang on by a thread because educators feel pressured to keep these failing students in school.

Questionable Student Retention Policies

The pressure on educators to keep failing students in school stems from a nationwide emphasis on student retention. Following the highly-criticized No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by former President Obama in 2015, prides itself in retention goals like high graduation rates and historically-low dropout rates.

ESSA goes a step further with the lofty goal that all students will graduate fully ready for college or a career. As part of the program, schools that meet retention goals get special federal funding.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast.

Poor student preparation and slack performance in the classroom combined with ESSA retention goals and a need for federal funds forces many schools to move the goalposts and operate under questionable moral standards.

Lowering the Minimum Standard for Grades Given

One questionable action taken by local school boards involves giving grades higher than those earned on periodic report cards. As a high school teacher under NCLB, I once had a student earn an “8” for a 6-weeks grading period, but the grade was changed by the principal to a 62 in accordance with school board policy. 

Such grade manipulation policies are spreading. Reports around the country show that some schools mandate a minimum grade of 50– even if a student does no work at all.

Remember the costly academic-athletic scandal that embarrassed the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently? Some aspects of the scandal involved student athletes and other students who got credit for classes they never attended.

Is there really much difference between a student who receives 50 unearned points and one who receives credit for a class never attended? In both instances, students received credit for unearned coursework, which constitutes academic fraud.

Changing the Academic Grading Scale

As academic standards continue dropping, even minimum grade policies aren’t enough to keep students in school and graduation rates up. The goalposts are moving again.

Many k-12 schools, colleges, and universities are changing from a 7-point grading scale to a 10-point grading scale. At those institutions, students now earn course credit with what were once considered failing or poor grades.

For example, most schools considered a 77 average the minimum grade for a “C” and passing credit for a course. The new minimum standard at lots of schools just became 70. Think about that. A “C” is now just one point above the former failing mark.

With standards so low, how many graduates will receive a degree without an education?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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