Students head back to Kelly Walsh High School after their lunch break in December 2017. The Natrona County School District has lowered its graduation rate goal for 2024 after consulting with educators.

The importance of a high school diploma can’t be understated. Without it, securing a well-paying, reliable job is nearly impossible. And the foundation required to make this a feasible goal is laid early in a child’s academic career. When milestones are missed, it can make success in high school that much more challenging — for both the student and the staff.

We know that graduation rates are a priority for the Natrona County School District. And we recognize that 100 percent is just not a realistic expectation. However, lowering the bar isn’t the way to increase graduation success.

The school board recently did just that, voting to lower four-year graduation goals throughout the district. And while we understand their motivation – making the goals more attainable – we disagree that this was the right move.

District officials felt the previous goals were too optimistic. But despite failing to meet these targets (a four-year graduation rate of 88 percent) Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools have improved graduation rates in recent years, breaking above the 80 percent threshold. If high expectations for staff were passed on to students, will lowered expectations do the same?

Ultimately, the change only serves to make the district look better by helping ensure the goal is met. Previous goals were tough to achieve, and the struggles might have weighed on district officials. However, lowering graduation goals does nothing to help the students and teachers of Natrona County.

Consider the challenges students will face in life if they don’t graduate.

A high school diploma is the price of admission to a stable adult life. Without it, students enter the world unprepared and with less to offer future employers. And whether or not they have the skills necessary to qualify for a job, a diploma signifies to an employer that the person was able to complete a task and meet certain expectations.

Without it, these students are highly susceptible to economic difficulties.

By lowering the expectation for how many students should receive a diploma, the district is sending the message to students that a diploma just isn’t that important.

Students that are at risk for dropping out or failing to graduate are likely already hearing the message at home or from friends that a diploma isn’t a big deal. And instead of underscoring this message, the district should be working to prove the opposite.

The time district leaders have spent stressing about this one metric – what percentage of students graduate with a diploma in four years – might have been better spent looking into how to intervene with at-risk students.

Natrona County residents want to live in a community that takes pride in its schools. Expecting our children to excel in school should be the norm. And of course, those families that already have these expectations aren’t at risk.

Lowering the graduation goal sets a standard that we’re OK with leaving some students behind. As expectations lower, so too will the rate of success.

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