Could lowering the bar for graduation for some students, as Superintendent Terry Grier has suggested doing through a system of tiered diplomas, help cut the dropout rate?

Scholars have been studying the opposite question — whether raising the bar makes more teens drop out — with little consensus on the question. Researchers are split on whether bolstering requirements means blocking more kids from graduation. Educators who want to bulk up standards point to San Jose Unified, which boosted its graduation requirements and rates at the same time, and argue that schools should get kids to stay in school by making it more engaging and relevant rather than by making it easier.

Fear of dropouts “shouldn’t be the barrier to doing the right thing,” said Matt Gandal, executive vice president of the American Diploma Project, which pushes states to make graduation standards tougher to prepare students for college and work. “We should catch kids early before they’re likely to drop out.”

Another recent study found that offering another diploma option, the General Educational Development test, actually encouraged students to drop out. When the GED got harder and fewer people could pass it, fewer students dropped out, and when the GED was introduced in California, its dropout rate increased more compared to other states.

EMILY ALPERT

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