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Graduation rates fall in Tennessee for the first time since 2013

Posted at 9:44 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 22:49:02-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Graduation rates dipped in 2020 in Tennessee - the first drop the state has seen in seven years.

While the total decrease is .1%, from 89.7% to 89.6%, some worry the decrease is the sign of a deeper problem.

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Tennessee graduation rates from 2013 to 2020.

J.C. Bowman with Professional Educators of Tennessee said the numbers are alarming because COVID-19 shouldn't have impacted graduation. Bowman noted the state put in place many exemptions for students in March and April.

"There was no ACT requirements, no end of course exams [and] there was no TNReady exams," said Bowman. "So... why would those numbers drop?"

With issues across the state with online learning and other changes in school procedures, Bowman worries the graduation rate may drop more in 2021.

"I think it would've been a more significant decrease," he said. "That's why I'm really concerned about it. I think that, other people who have looked at the data are starting to say wait a minute, are we starting to regress here in Tennessee with our graduation data?"

Data from the Department of Education shows a steady increase since 2013, with only one year where the rate stayed stagnant.

A spokesperson for TDOE said they're aware of the decrease and are working to identify the causes. Though, they contest that COVID had nothing to do with it. They said key infrastructure to help students prepare for graduation was impacted by coronavirus shutdowns between March and August.

"This year, in those critical months, there were significant COVID-19 disruptions that may have impacted how students received essential supports, just like they may have impacted the dip in post-secondary enrollment," said the spokesperson. "Any dips in graduation rate, even small declines and especially for our most vulnerable students, are highly concerning and the department will continue to work in partnership with districts and look at data and outcomes for students to inform strategies for recovering learning loss and setting students on a path to success."

Some minority groups saw the largest decrease in graduation rates. Black students saw a decrease of .5% in graduation. Students who are learning English also saw a decrease of 3.3%.

"School districts right now are struggling to stay open and I think eventually the end objective is getting our eye on kids and see where they're at and bridging the gaps in instructional abilities," said Bowman.

He said he hopes he doesn't see the rate continue downwards.