Walking across the stage, shaking the principal’s hand and receiving a high school diploma is a dream for many students and a proud moment to end a high school career. But what does that high school diploma really mean? According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), fewer than half of Missouri high school graduates are college and career ready.
What may be even more concerning is performance on the Missouri End-of-Course Exam (EOC) testing. EOC results are “(The) information used to diagnose individual student strengths and weaknesses in relation to the instruction of the Missouri Learning Standards (MLS), and to gauge the overall quality of education throughout Missouri," prior to graduation. Unfortunately, the results showed that in 2018–19 a quarter of high school students tested in Algebra I, the ninth-grade math level, scored below basic on state standards. This means that more than 15,000 students showed “minimal understanding.” The number of students scoring below basic in Algebra I has risen slightly in the years leading up to 2018–2019.
What happens to the students who score below basic? Their classroom grade, not the state tests, determine whether they are promoted or not. Most of the time they move on to the next math class required for graduation, leading to many students unprepared for the more difficult math courses and to schools not being held accountable for addressing achievement gaps.
If the EOC tests really are used to “diagnose individual strengths and weaknesses” and to gauge “overall quality of education” in Missouri, then it is time we do something with that information.
Schools must be held accountable. Students who score below basic should not be passed on to a higher-level math course. Instead, individual schools must be responsible for reteaching that student until they have demonstrated the basic level of content mastery in state standards. Students may demonstrate basic proficiency by retaking the EOC after a school has retaught the material. Options include a summer school reteach or a 10th grade retake that would not delay graduation as the state only requires 3 years of high school math.
A doctor would not just diagnose a patient with a condition and leave them untreated. Why should our schools be allowed to pass students on when scores clearly indicate they are falling behind?