Virginia Diploma Inflation?

Once again, Cranky (aka John Butcher) has gone where no man has gone before, plumbing the statistical depths of Virginia Department of Education data in search of answers to questions that no one else but he and I seem to be asking.

Last week I cited data showing significant high school grade inflation nationally since 1998, even as SAT scores were trending lower. I wondered what the numbers looked like in Virginia. Responding to that question in his blog, Cranky found a parallel divergence between the rising percentage of Virginians graduating with “advanced” diplomas and the sliding percentage of end-of-course (EOC) standardized tests.

That divergence can be seen in the chart above, taken from his blog. (Writing, history, science, and math EOCs showed divergences as well, as can be seen by scrolling down his blog post.)

Cranky concludes:

Whatever is going on here – and the process is so byzantine that an outsider might despair to understand it – it is clear that the average graduation rate, especially of advanced diplomas, is not constrained by the EOC pass rates.  If anything, the graduation rates and pass rates are going in different directions.

Bacon mentions grade inflation. This looks like diploma inflation somewhere outside the verified credit process.

One possible explanation for the divergence is that the smart kids are getting smarter (more of them graduating with advanced degrees) and the dumb kids are getting dumber (not passing end-of-year SOLs.) Another explanation is that, given the intense political pressure to show improving performance, grade inflation is being accompanied by diploma inflation, as Cranky suggests. It would be helpful to know if one of these explanations reflects Virginia’s educational reality.

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6 responses to “Virginia Diploma Inflation?”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    This is more proof of my central point – and my argument that our subsidizing of our corrupt institutions only delays and deepens the systemic problems that infect our education systems, making them ever more dysfunctional while they poison our youth and future.

    Blinded by our cliches we refuse to see reality, much less confront it.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think one of Crank’s problems is that he gets tangled up in data… and struggles with it being “information”.

    The truth is that there are two very different tiers in high school these days. There are kids who are bound for college and there are kids who are not.

    Whatever happens to the kids that are not.. varies … actually from school to school within a school district… depending on the income demographics of the neighborhood they serve.

    You can see this in many schools districts from Henrico to Fairfax where some schools are essentially college-prep schools and others are de-facto basic diploma schools trying to get kids to meet the minimums the state requires.

    The college-prep schools are the ones with the grade-inflation issues … and they’re responding to the parents who want their kids HS academic bone-fides to be of a high enough level to provide their kids with open doors to the brand-name .. colleges.

    They typically will take AP – Advanced Placement to “fluff up” their credentials but the easier APs.. not the more robust in math or science.

    It’s not hard to show the two-tier system – go to the VDOE build-a-table site and put in a school district like Henrico – and see the per school academic performance results.. it’s two different worlds..

  3. I agree that we likely have two phenomenon. There is probably grade inflation for the competitive college bound (as well as removing class rank as an effective metric for evaluation) as well as a significant increase in awards (# of salutatorians and valedictorians, for instance). They are playing to parent and student expectations. Other schools are just trying, desperately in some cases, to improve their metrics (graduation rates, SOL scores) for federal and state standards. This could explain what Cranky showed.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    but graduation rates for the non-college crowd is not really tied to the trend of escalating grades.. that’s just a minimum score pass….

    graduation rate, by the way.. is a cesspool of statistical miasma ………..

    there are numerous ways to calculate it … and those methods can and do vary in different years..

    take a look :

  5. Yes. That’s why I said two phenomena.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      policies Izzo – intentional choices.. not just random things that “happen”..

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