The go-on rate debate: A culture of low expectations

angel-gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

I am going to offer up what may be an unpopular opinion, Idaho’s 60 percent go-on rate goal is low, really low. I think about the goals that I would set for my children. I don’t want to see 40 percent of my children be unprepared for attaining a post-secondary degree. I know that a post-secondary degree will enable my children to earn more over the course of their lifetime. I know that my children would have so many more opportunities to pursue what they want with a postsecondary degree. I also know that a postsecondary degree can be a critically important chance to learn skills and lessons that will allow my children to improve their communities and their state.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the 54 percent of students in this state that do not go on.

There have been recent reports that purport to show the go-on rate effort is having an effect in Idaho, and we just need to double down on current efforts. Frankly, these efforts are not doing enough and things will get even worse if we don’t take bolder action as a state to make it a priority to serve our young people. Here’s why:

Our student’s don’t have the skills they need be successful in college

Let’s begin with the state’s recent SAT scores. According to data provided by the College Board, only 35 percent of students in Idaho taking the SAT met the benchmark in math for college and career readiness. While this may not be the perfect metric for determining college and career readiness, let’s look at statewide ISAT data — 37 percent of students don’t meet basic standards in ELA and 48 percent of students don’t meet basic standards in math. That’s a lot of K-12 students, year after year, failing to meet minimum academic standards set by our state. Students are put on their future trajectories from the point they enter school, and we aren’t doing them favors by setting low expectations. While we may bemoan the go-on rate now, that is an indicator of a lackluster education system that only benefits exceptional students, which leads me into my second point.

Our schools continuing to “weed” our students out from going to college

A month or so ago, I was discussing academic performance data on a district with a colleague. I was remarking how well the district was doing, and then he pointed out how poorly performing low-income students had done that year. We were both looking at nearly a 30 percent gap in achievement between low-income students and their counterparts, this is stark and deeply upsetting. He reminded me that low bars are set for young people with challenging backgrounds or who don’t do well academically. Our schools are structured in a way that allows students to be sifted through to determine those who are “high-performers,” “average” “and “low-achievers.” The “high-performers” and some of the “average” students go on to college while most others are left to figure things out for themselves. There was a time where this may have worked, but now it doesn’t.

Our state is ultimately fine with business as usual

This brings me back to the go-on rate news stories from this week. I can’t help but ask, why aren’t people mad? A low goal was set and we are failing to meet even that benchmark. In fact we are moving backwards from the goal. The challenges future Idahoans face will only get more complicated as the work Idahoans do changes and job industries that were ever abundant dissolve.

Something needs to shake us into being awake, otherwise, we are in deep trouble.

Written Angel Gonzalez, the director of research for Bluum.