Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves maintains Mississippi’s graduation rate has risen to the national average over the past five years because the state has held students to higher standards.

“It’s really a simple solution as most effective fixes usually are: We’ve raised the level of expectations. We gave a goal. We set real consequences for failing to achieve it, and now Mississippi kids are learning more and learning faster than ever before,” he said in a recent talk to the Mississippi Press Association in Biloxi.

Reeves is right that the graduation rate has risen. It grew from 74 percent in 2014 to 84 percent in 2018.

He’s also right that the reason has been a simple one, but he’s got it backwards about why. The state actually accomplished it by lowering expectations.

In 2014, the state Board of Education dropped the requirement to pass subject-area tests in biology, algebra I, U.S. history and English II before graduating. Note that those are freshman- or sophomore-level courses that every graduate should master. Replacing that objective standard with subjective alternatives has predictably resulted in steadily rising graduation rates.

There’s no way to spin that as anything other than lowering expectations. When asked if he could provide an explanation for why the graduation rate has improved other than removing the subject-area passage requirement, Reeves could not provide a compelling answer. He punted to the state Department of Education to make that case and said the real world is more important than those statistics.

“What it means in the real world is there are 3,000 more kids a year who are graduating high school. Those 3,000 kids that are graduating from high school, I will tell you they have a totally different outlook on life. They have a totally different set of opportunities before them,” he said.

Reeves is correct that the true standard is not test results but what happens when they get out of school. One way to gauge that would be to ask colleges and employers about the students produced by the state’s high schools. It is doubtful you could find many admissions counselors or human resources professionals who would say high school graduates today are better prepared than in the past.

In fact, colleges have to offer more remedial classes to try and catch students up to what they should have learned in high school, and any employer can give countless examples of young, new hires that lack the smarts and work ethic to be successful.

That’s the thing about lowering standards. It might make education bureaucrats and politicians look better, but it only makes things worse in the real world.

Mississippi politicians need to stop bragging about the inflated graduation rates and push the Department of Education to revive the subject-area testing requirement so taxpayers and employers can get an accurate picture of whether or not graduates are really learning more.

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