An interesting piece in the December 26 issue of the New York Times prompted me to think about this question. The title of the editorial was As Graduations Rates Rise, Experts Feel Diplomas Come Up Short. I am guessing this editorial was a response to the Education Department’s release on December 15, noting that high school graduation rates were up a percent from the previous year (82%) and the highest since the Department began using a uniform measure in 2010.
Motoko Rich, the author of the editorial, noted that this one measure, the graduation rate, might lead one to believe that 82% of our nation’s high school graduates are ready. But ready for what is the next logical question. According to Rich and the high school he researched (Berea High School in Greenville, SC), it does not appear that these graduates are “college nor career ready”, the catch phrase that typically accompanies these types of educational statistics. He noted that only one in 10 of the high school graduates were ready for college-level reading and one in 14 were ready for college-level math. A little more than half demonstrated they had the math skills required for most jobs.
Rich’s report goes on to ask deeper questions about what does a high school diploma really mean. She notes differences in state requirements, notably for English and math, as well as the push and pull of appropriate rigor that happens between the wants and desires of those in the P-12 world and those in higher education. If you add another variable to this calculation, the skillset needed for those who go immediately into the workplace after high school, one might need a degree in differential equations to attempt a solution.
In my reflections on this question, and as I thought about my own high-school and college-age children, college- and career-readiness is a critical measure of what the diploma should mean when students cross the stage at ________ Christian School. While being ready for college or the workplace is certainly difficult to measure, it is not impossible. We can use college readiness assessments and benchmarks as well as workplace performance-based tests to determine if the diploma is representing what it should.
Thankfully, this is not the only measure for what a Christian school diploma represents. Excellence in the classroom, absolutely. But this document should also represent a recognition that this child is ready for the next challenges in Kingdom work. Christian schools are not simply educational factories that prepare students for the future or to be good citizens in this world. They are places that help them understand the world they live in, how to face the challenges that present themselves each day, as well as equipping or inoculating them for what lies ahead. Education that allows them to understand what it means that they have been justified, are being sanctified, and not yet glorified. A place where what they discover and believe about God makes absolutely everything they do and every class they take important, that they are part of God’s work in making all things new.
Hard to measure? Yes…but we treasure what we measure so let’s see if our diplomas do represent a graduate who is ready to have a faithful presence in an already but not yet world!
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.