Are Alabama’s latest high school graduation rates real?

Trisha Powell Crain:

Federal high school graduation rates for the 2016-17 school year are out, and once again, Alabama finds itself at or near the top of the list. This time Alabama touts the highest graduation rate among all states and the District of Columbia for African American students, whose graduation rate has risen nearly 20 percentage points—to 86.5 percent—since 2012.

Hispanic students in Alabama graduated at the second-highest rate—88 percent—in the country.

And Alabama ranked fourth highest for graduation rate overall, with a rate of 89.3 percent.

But don’t celebrate just yet. Alabama’s high graduation rates a few years ago brought federal auditors to the state, resulting in an admission by state officials that rates were artificially inflated because they counted students whose coursework wasn’t aligned with state standards.

So do these latest graduation rates measure up?

One measure Alabama education officials created to determine if graduates are ready for life after high school—college or career—paints a different picture.

While Alabama’s federal graduation rate for black students is 86.5 percent, the percentage of black students who have earned one of the state’s college or career readiness credentials is only 55.6 percent.

A similar but much smaller gap exists for white students: 91 percent graduation rate, college and career readiness rate of 80.4 percent.

So, what’s the difference in the two rates? And does the gap matter?

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”