The Tennessee Department of Education recently patted itself on the back, announcing in October that it had pushed graduation rates to “the highest on record since the state changed to a more rigorous calculation of graduation rates in 2011.”

“Our schools and districts should be proud of the work they have done to support students on their journeys to and beyond high school graduation,” Candice McQueen, education commissioner, said in the October release. “High school graduation is a critical step in allowing students to embark on their chosen paths in life. However, as more Tennessee students are earning their diplomas, we must ensure that they are all leaving with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Now, we have no choice but to question those numbers, since a report released in January by the department showed that one-third of high school graduates in the state did not meet the state’s graduation requirements.

“Most commonly, students were missing either the two foreign language credits or the specific required social studies courses,” the study said.

The report also showed that graduates completing all requirements are 15 percent more likely to enroll in post-secondary education.

So this raises the question of whether schools across the state are doing everything they can to ensure success for all students.

According to the report, students were often taking the right number of classes required, but not the right classes. That means many of those students were likely not getting the right amount of guidance from their schools to know that they were taking the right classes.

If a student took four math classes thinking that met the requirements, only to have one of those classes not meet the state’s standard, that’s not the fault of a teenager, but rather of a school system.

While most schools did their due diligence in making sure students were on track, smaller schools with less resources had more difficulty.

“In most of our schools, the majority of students met all course requirements,” the reports said. “But in 28 percent of high schools, less than half of graduates met all course requirements, even though the necessary courses were offered within the school. Larger schools with more counselors were more likely to have students meeting all course requirements. This may be due to increased structures and oversight.”

In an article from NPR, Wendy Tucker, a Tennessee State School Board member, said that the number of students who failed to meet graduation requirements could explain some issues with postsecondary education success and ACT scores that are below the national average.

“I’m just having a hard time reconciling ‘requirement’ with ‘didn’t do it’,” she said in the NPR article. “This could explain some of our post-secondary success issues if kids are graduating without actually meeting the requirements.”

In the NPR article, McQueen said the state planned to take “drastic measures” to rectify this situation.

When the state recently claimed it was using a “rigorous calculation” to come up with graduation rates, it’s fair to be skeptical of just what the word “drastic” means.

Jonathan Herrmann is news editor of the News-Herald. He can be contacted at 865-986-6581 or