CLEVELAND — She says she can't read, doesn't have the skills to fill out a job application, and can't do basic math like counting money. But Erica McCary is also an Ohio high school graduate.
"There were times I didn't do my work at all," McCrary said in her new adult education classroom. "(I was) still getting passed." She says the promise of a quality education failed her when she was in school.
Every year, Ohio taxpayers fork out more than $10 billion for primary education, kindergarten through the 12th grade, to make sure every child learns the skills they need to give back to the community. McCrary graduated in 2008 from a charter school but started her education within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. McCrary said she never had to repeat a grade in elementary, middle or high school. However, she said she was also not subject to proficiency testing as she was enrolled in the special education program.
"Once we got done with math, we went to another subject," McCrary said. "But, I was still stuck on math. As a matter of fact, I was still stuck on the first page." She felt it was obvious to teachers that she was not learning. So after completing 10thgrade, her mother pulled her out of her public school and enrolled her in a charter school specializing in drop-out prevention and recovery. McCrary was told she had to volunteer and complete unfinished work in order to graduate. So, she did.
"I felt very nervous once I got my diploma. I didn't know what to do with it. I felt like it was of no use," McCrary said.
She wanted to be a nurse, but there was no way to pursue her dream of working in the health care filed, because she could barely read on a first-grade level. Even getting a driver's license to find a job was difficult, with McCrary taking the test seven times before passing, because she couldn't read the study book and written test. So after graduating, McCary says she spent the majority of her time at home.
The Scoring Our Schools team looked into the grading policies for Cleveland Metro Schools after McCrary came forward. Policies posted on the district website state "A student having failing grades in reading, math, and English at the end of each year has his or her case evaluated by the teacher, guidance counselor and principal for placement." It continues, "A student having failing grades may be assigned to the next higher grade only with approval from the principal."
In Columbus City Schools, a student is kept back in grades Kindergarten through Eighth if he or she "has been truant more than 10% of the required attendance days; and has failed two or more required curriculum subjects, unless it is determined that the student is academically prepared to be promoted to the next grade level by the Principal and the teachers of the subjects failed." In high school in Columbus, a student must only pass a quarter of a course and final exam to earn credit.
McCrary now attends Seeds of Literacy in Cleveland. Bonnie Entler, the director of the adult education program, says she's not her only high school graduate. "Most of our students are coming in with a fourth or fifth-grade reading level," Entler said. "They have some reading abilities. But we also see some students who have absolutely no reading abilities."
A study from Case Western Reserve University posted on the program's website found 66% of adults in Cleveland are functionally illiterate. "Someone who would have a hard time understanding a bus pass, read a prescription bottle, everyday tasks that most people take for granted."