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Graduation rate here improved (by lowering the bar)


School District Superintendent Mark Rendell led off his presentation to the Taxpayers’ Association of Indian River County last week by touting improved graduation rates without mentioning that state requirements for graduation have been lowered.

Rendell said the best measure of the district’s success is the graduation rate, which he said increased 6 percent in 2015-2016, from 81 percent to 87 percent. He said the graduation rate for black students went up more than 9 percent, from 64.6 percent to 74.2 percent.

What Rendell didn’t say is that the state has lowered the bar for what is considered passing on key tests that help determine whether students graduate. Test standards are tied to National Assessment of Educational Progress benchmarks.

The NAEP delineates five levels of achievement and a student who achieves level-four test results is considered “proficient” by the national organization.

But Florida, dismayed by the high failure rate in state high schools, decided to make level three a passing mark.

The state also lowered the bar for other end-of-course tests for algebra, biology and other subjects by beginning to grade them on a curve.

In bragging about graduation rates, Rendell made no mention that standards had been significantly lowered.

After the graduation rate pitch, Taxpayers’ Association President John Kistler moved on to other matters.

Kistler asked Rendell why the School Department budget process didn’t allow for more citizen input, noting with dismay that last year the budget document came out just one day before the only public hearing on the budget.

“You have elected representatives,” Rendell said in response, suggesting the public has no right to directly review the $280 million budget its property taxes support.

Kistler next asked Rendell what he was doing about Gifford Middle School’s high rate of teacher turnover, citing a report in Vero Beach 32963 that found more than 20 percent of teachers left during the first six months of the school year.

Rendell responded by saying 32963 got the percentage wrong, but he didn’t have the figures with him.

In any case, five more teachers have left Gifford Middle School since 32963 last reported on chaotic, unsafe conditions and abnormal teacher turnover at the school, bringing the total up to 15.

That means the rate is even higher – that more than 27 percent of teachers have left their jobs at Gifford so far this school year, and the school year is not over.

Even though losing 27 percent of the teachers in seven and a half months would appear to be a clear sign of problems, Rendell did not discuss why so many teachers are heading for the exit at Gifford Middle – or what the School District is doing about it.