Most West Virginia counties have improved high school graduation rates substantially during the past few years. Some, including two in the Northern Panhandle, have made extremely impressive progress.
But the state's average graduation rate of 79.3 percent still is far from good enough. And periodic reports that Mountain State students lag behind their peers in many states in academic achievement raise the question of whether graduation requirements are tough enough.
State officials reported last week that during the last school year, 79.3 percent of seniors graduated from high school. Compared to the 70.8 percent for the 2008-09 school year, that is good news.
All six Northern Panhandle counties have much better graduation rates than the state average. Percentages of seniors who graduated last year were: Brooke County, 88.6; Hancock, 87.54; Ohio, 92.99; Marshall, 84.14; Wetzel, 91.87; and Tyler, 87.83.
Ohio and Wetzel counties have posted very good improvements. Since the 2010-11 school year, the graduation rate in Ohio County has increased by 18.27 percentage points. In Wetzel County, the improvement has been 7.57 points. Educators and others involved in the increases in both counties are to be commended.
Again, however, standardized tests and other measurements of education quality show that in most subjects, some young West Virginians are not learning as much as their peers in other states and nations.
Complaints such as these are extremely frustrating to the many good, dedicated educators in West Virginia. Some note what they teach is prescribed in excruciating details by the state. Others complain the standard of success is students doing well on the state's standardized tests, not the exams given in other states and abroad. Still more point out that when a student's parents do not support the school's mission, it is no surprise that their children do not do well in the classroom.
Teachers, then, have valid complaints of their own - and those need to be taken into account in improving schools.
Higher graduation rates are a start - but only that. Much more needs to be done to ensure that when young West Virginians leave high school, they are realistically prepared for jobs or higher education.