Mad about high school graduation scandals? Blame preschools.

Char Leton

The scandal at D.C. Public Schools and a recent audit in California have brought nationwide attention to inflated high school graduation rates driven by strict accountability measures and unrealistic graduation targets. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A recent study from the University of Oklahoma provides evidence that even preschools are promoting chronically absent students who are unprepared for their next level of education.

The study takes Oklahoma’s preschool graduation data from 2005–15 and compares them to attendance rates and scores on tests designed to determine three- and four-year-olds’ college and career readiness.

Analysts find that pre-K grad rates soared over the decade from 75 to 96 percent—but that this rise didn’t mirror similar improvements in true achievement. In 2015, for example, only 71 percent of students were able to write their name, a ten-year increase of just 2 percentage points. The proportion who were able to fit shapes into corresponding holes in wooden blocks rose just 3 points, to 54 percent. Successful donning of one’s own raingear increased barely at all. And most worrisome of all, attendance rates remained low and flat over the course of the study, with 98 percent attending no more than half of each school day.

The study has several important limitations, though. The assessments were entirely subjective and thus prone to teacher bias. And the data are completely made up.

This report should serve as a wake-up call for districts around the country that must act before their schools are filled with boys and girls who don’t even know their own names.