Balto. Co. graduation statistics don't tell the whole story

One success The Sun cites for Superintendent S. Dallas Dance's tenure at Baltimore County Public Schools is the increase in graduation rates, which offer a welcome trend ("Dallas Dance resigns as Baltimore County Schools superintendent," April 18). However, there are limits to this data to keep in mind. Improved graduation rates are oft-touted in digital school districts as 'positive' proof of results — essentially being woven into edtech implementation scripts. Yet questions have been raised nationwide.

Rising graduation rates increasingly result from online or problematic credit-recovery courses, also pursued at BCPS via AdvancePath Academics, Apex Learning and other for-profit companies whose contract spending authorities total a staggering $11.1 million, BCPS documents show. BCPS just moved some services in-house under a similar program called SPARC. Among many studies and articles, Education Week in 2016 ran a piece titled "Online Credit Recovery: Students Fare Worse than Peers, Research Finds."

Progressive school leaders also review additional factors to determine whether students are simply being pushed along: What are their outcomes for college or jobs post-graduation? A recent NPR story, "School Graduation Rates Are Deceiving," cites Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises and other education experts who note that schools must follow up for true results. In "the state of Maryland, we looked at how long it took them to graduate from college," said Ms. Santelises, also a former senior vice president at the Education Trust.

Such graduation figures might be a good thing. Or stem from financially unsustainable programs, and instead prove misleading. The statistics sound good, yet what do they really mean for students in the end? 

Joanne C. Simpson, Towson

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