Thursday, April 9, 2009

Where Are Decent Graduation Rate Data for Kentucky?

Nearly two decades after the enactment of KERA, Kentucky still lacks high-confidence answers to a very basic question – what proportion of our kids graduate from high school on time? Or, at all? And, how fast is this changing?

These are questions I have been asking for a long time.

Kentucky is definitely not in the lead in getting accurate graduation rate data. When we finally do get that data, the results could be a bit disturbing. That has generally been the experience in other states that moved ahead of us in collecting accurate data on this statistic.

Anyway, the issue is important, and in the vacuum created by the absence of high-quality graduation rate numbers, some continue to push rather inflated numbers for our high school graduation rate.

For example, over at the Prichard Blog, Susan Westin has been writing about the subject.

She put up her first post yesterday, but I immediately found some technical problems that really inflated her results. She promptly responded to my message, correcting that technical error here.

However, even after making those technical corrections, I still don’t think Ms. Weston has a good handle on this subject.

I could write a lot more about this issue, but I don’t have to. The federal government sponsored a very intensive examination of graduation rate reporting several years ago. The findings are published in “User’s Guide to Computing High School Graduation Rates Volume 1” and “Volume 2.”

You can read the 160 combined pages in this two-part report, or just take my word for it. The feds found the most reliable interim calculation for graduation rates isn’t what Susan seems to be touting with her 7th grade to 12th grade analysis. The feds recommend the “Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate” formula. It deals with the ninth grade bulge issue Weston raises. What’s more, in two trials in states that already have high quality graduation rate reporting, that federally recommended formula returns numbers only about two points above real graduation rates. However, the federal calculation produces lower graduation rate numbers than Ms. Weston seems to prefer. For that matter, the federal numbers are considerably lower than graduation rate figures the Kentucky Department of Education provides, as well.

Oh, by the way, the next best formula in those federal trials is a formula that simply divides the number of graduates by their class’ enrollment figure in ninth grade. The result is only about two points below the actual number, according to those federal trials.

There is some mystery here, as well. That formula Ms. Weston doesn’t approve of in her Blogs – it’s the same one the Prichard Committee itself used in their 10-year report on KERA.

They called it a “Cohort Survival Formula” back then.

Anyway, because it is nearly as good as the top-rated federal formula and considerably easier to compute, I still use what the feds call the “Freshman Graduation Rate” (FGR) fairly frequently. To be honest, until we get some high quality data, it isn’t worth the bother to mess with anything more complicated. Just add two points to the FGR and you will be almost dead on with the real results – and still well below numbers Ms. Weston and the Kentucky Department of Education would like to believe.

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