Our drop out rates are fairly good and students here are expected to write essay exams by 2nd grade. What has happened is that our special education numbers are higher than average. Personally, I do not think that the answer is asking students to do developmentally inappropriate tasks, but to focus more on quality at the middle and high levels. Instead of pushing students to graduate when they can barely read, the options would be to continue to educate them and as long as they attend classes and do their best, they can get a Hugh school certificate of completion. This is an option for special education students, but I think that it should be an option for all. There are some jobs where persistence and dependability are more important than school smarts. This would tell these employers that these applicants have that important character trait.
Or, the other option that we provide is to continue taking classes until age 21. My school district offers this. Or, we have some students that complete courses through home study or self-paced online learning. Just as long as standards are high then I would rather see it done this way. Offer options to help students meet the standards, but do not lower them.