Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Waivers May Be Inflating Graduation Rates In Indianapolis Public Schools

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

IPS superintendent Eugene White (left) looks on as a member of the public makes his comments during a meeting. Graduation rates are up in Indianapolis, but so are the number of end-of-course waivers the district has granted.

An increase of end-of-course waivers may be fueling gains in the graduation rates of Indianapolis Public Schools, writes Scott Elliott of The Indianapolis Star:

An Indianapolis Star examination of state graduation data shows that IPS’ higher graduation rate is being driven mightily by an increase in the use of waivers — a process that allows districts to award regular diplomas to students who did not pass the state’s required tests for algebra and English.

Statewide, approximately 8 percent of students in 2011 received such diplomas. But in IPS, that percentage was a startling 26.7 percent — a percentage that has been increasing over the past few years.

Put another way, without waiver diplomas, IPS’ graduation rate would be 47.3 percent. That is slightly below its 2009 overall graduation rate of 48.6 percent.

An interactive map from The Indianapolis Star highlights how many students in each of the state’s school districts are receiving graduation waivers.

Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett says the waivers were designed to help students with special circumstances and should be used sparingly, not to pass along students who haven’t mastered the skills they need for success after high school.

“We know the vast majority of those who graduate using waivers will need remediation in college,” Bennett told The Indianapolis Star.

The problem is even more pronounced among minority students, Elliott writes. Nearly a third of black students received a waiver to graduate from IPS:

That percentage of black students who used a district-approved waiver is not only high, it is disproportionate even when compared with other demographic groups educators identify as at-risk.

For example, one in seven Indiana students who receive free and reduced-price school meals — a standard measure of poverty — received waivers. For Hispanic students, it also was one in seven.

By comparison, just one in 20 white students received waivers.

Elliott asked local leaders of the black community what might be causing the disparity. Responses included a cultural bias in standardized tests and classroom instruction, but everyone he spoke to agreed ” … African-American children are clearly capable; and it is time to confront these difficult questions.”

For his part, IPS Superintendent Eugene White, who has defended his district’s use of waivers in the past, called the growing number of graduates failing end-of-course exams “unacceptable.” He told Elliott that only students who attend extra study programs during school breaks will be considered for waivers next year.


  • Karyn

    Students in IPS need waivers because students in IPS know that students in IPS are given waivers. Kids have looked me in the eye year after year and said, “Why do I need to care about this test? My brother didn’t pass it and he got a waiver. My cousin didn’t pass it and he got a waiver. My friend didn’t pass it and she got a waiver. What’s the big deal about this test?” Kids who absolutely have the knowledge necessary to pass the test don’t do so because they just refuse to put any effort into it. Oh, the irony, and sadness on behalf of students and staff affected, that IPS may be dealing with these state takeovers due to low test scores because they’ve been giving out waivers like Oprah gives out new cars in order to boost their graduation rates and the kids stopped having any personal incentive to perform well on the test.

    The Indianapolis Star needs to look back in their own archives and see that every time for the past ten years that district officials have been interviewed about the high number of waivers given to students to allow them to graduate, district officials (including Dr. White since he’s been superintendent) have promised that they will “tighten up the process” in future years. It hasn’t happened yet. Dr. White has been saying FOR YEARS in the media and at high school student assemblies that he’s going to start only giving waivers to kids who show up to all remediation sessions…and he has yet to enforce that. Also, waivers already DO need to be “approved” by district officials and not just principals — that’s also a policy that’s been in place for a few years. However, every year these promises are made…and every year they end up being broken as IPS administrators look at what their dismal graduation rates will be if they don’t give out those waivers. However, I will guarantee White and everyone else that IPS test scores will increase and the non-waiver-graduation-rate will eventually increase as well if IPS begins to take a much firmer stance on waivers and students are actually held accountable for their performance on these graduation exams.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »