Graduation Time for Accountability Reporting
ISSUE 57 | JUNE 11, 2003
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GRADUATION TIME: A MOMENT TO BUILD TRUST WITH REALISTIC GRADUATION RATES
As your high schools' seniors prepare to don their graduation robes, education leaders are dressing up to answer questions about grad rates. These questions are coming from all quarters: board members, reporters, federal officials and citizens. This owl is ready to help you answer them. For those of you ready to rise to the occasion of realistic grad rate reporting, here's some help: two research reports, Florida's encouraging approach, and an easy way you can measure attrition.
URBAN INSTITUTE RESEARCH REPORT
Chris Swanson and Duncan Chaplin of the Urban Institute examined the graduation rates of 45 states as reported in the accountability workbooks they filed with the DoE. They found the resulting grad rates to be startlingly different, depending on which method of analysis each state used. Four different methods, in fact, are in play.
At the level of statewide reporting, the average variation ranged from a rosy high of 85 percent using the NCES method to an earthbound low of 68 percent using a Cumulative Promotion Index developed by Swanson and Chaplin. This 20 percentage point swing factor paled in comparison to the results at the district level. Cincinnati's grad rate results staggered from 18 to 54 percent, depending on the method used. To read more about this, see this article in Education Week.
BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE RESEARCH REPORT
The Business Roundtable sponsored a study in May that slammed the sorry state of graduation rate reporting. Most states count their high schools' graduation rates to be far higher than they really are, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies, at Northeastern University in Boston, the actual author of the study.
Reporting strategies that often lead to "overreporting" include: counting GEDs as high school diplomas, and subtracting dropouts from enrollment. The second method is often used because many districts and states do not have a proper student tracking system. According to the study, 42 states subtract the dropouts they can identify (itself a job for a private investigator) from enrollment.
The consequence of this dubious method is that states often report graduation rates that are frankly far too high: between 85 to 95 percent. In fact, if you count the freshmen in the class of 2004, and then count the number of seniors graduating four years later, you'd find about 70 percent had graduated. Read the Business Roundtable report.
Florida has been counting dropouts and graduation rates the more sober way for Florida has been counting dropouts and graduation rates in a more sober way for several years. They do not count GED holders as graduates. They identify and count persistent students ("stayers") in one graduating class, and use this number in grad rate calculations. When Florida changed to reporting dropouts more rigorously in 1999, and moved to an information system that gave them the capability of tracking students, issuing more accurate graduation rates became possible.
The result Florida citizens saw grad rates plummet from 85-90 percent to 65-70 percent. Newspaper coverage was hot. Debate was spirited. But once the shock was over, citizens and educators settled down. Based on this owl's reading of Florida's newspapers, a bridge of trust resulted from this transition. A similar fate may await us in California.
This owl recommends that you aim for the higher standard and report graduation rates now. This disclosure belongs in your accountability reports, and it should be put in the hands of your board members. If you want to get in front of the issue, write a press release and put it in the hands of your area's best K-12 reporter with an offer of a background briefing.
Once you commit to reporting graduation rates, this owl recommends you use Jay Greene's method. It relies on information you already have: counts of historical grade-level enrollments and graduates. To read more about Jay Greene's methods, see this article in Education Week.
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