- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

The high school diploma, once considered “an entry pass” to success and productivity in the world of work, is considered by employers today only proof that 18-year-olds attended school, a new study finds.

“For too many graduates, the American high school diploma signifies only a broken promise,” the American Diploma Project (ADP) reported yesterday.

The study found that more than half of high school graduates need remedial classes in college, and most who attend college never get a four-year degree. Meanwhile, employers rated high school graduates as “fair” or “poor” on basic abilities.

“While students and their parents may still believe that the diploma reflects adequate preparation for the intellectual demands of college or work, employers and postsecondary institutions know that it often serves as little more than a certificate of attendance,” the report said.

A coalition of education-reform groups who conducted the two-year review in five states said the diploma’s value can be restored if graduates are made to master more English and math.

“State policy-makers need to anchor high school graduation requirements and assessments to the standards of the real world,” said the report prepared by former top education officials from both the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

Former Clinton adviser Michael Cohen said the answer is for states to raise their academic standards.

“Whether, as a parent, you think your kid is going to college or the workplace, those kids face the same rigorous demands, and they need to leave [high school] with the same core set of skills,” said Mr. Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a District-based bipartisan education-advocacy group.

ADP is funded by a $2.4 million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and sponsored jointly by Achieve, the Education Trust and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

The recommendations in the 128-page report were based on statistical analysis of employment data and extensive research involving more than 300 faculty members from two- and four-year colleges, front-line managers in business, and high school educators in Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada and Texas.

The report, titled “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts,” said all students should be able to show strong written and oral communication skills, analytic and reasoning ability at the honors-course level, and learn statistics, data analysis, advanced algebra, and geometry.

Chester E. Finn Jr. said current public-education standards don’t match what colleges and employers expect from high school graduates.

“It’s like they’re spinning in different orbits. They’ve just never been brought together,” said Mr. Finn, an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration.

Among the findings in the new report:

• “Most U.S. high school graduates need remedial help in college … . Transcripts show that during their college careers, 53 percent of students take at least one remedial English or math class.”

• Most high school graduates who go to college never get a degree, and significantly fewer blacks and Hispanics than whites attain four-year college degrees.

• “More than 60 percent of employers rate graduates’ skills in grammar, spelling, writing and basic math as only ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’ One study estimated the cost of remedial training in reading, writing and mathematics to a single state’s employers at nearly $40 million a year.”

• “Most high school exit exams don’t measure what matters to colleges and employers. Nearly half the states require students to pass exit exams to graduate, but these exams generally assess eighth- or ninth-grade content.”

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