Wednesday, June 1, 2011

WHAT!!! No high school graduation rate data?!!!

Why Not???!!!

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) just released new non-academic data for the state – sort of.

The problem is the most important information – namely Kentucky’s very first high school graduation rate data using a credible formula instead of inflated nonsense – is NOT included.

The news release excuses: “to ensure data quality and integrity, a thorough review of school and district graduation rates is being implemented. Graduation rate data will be released in August 2011.”

I’m sorry, but that excuse does not wash.

When you look at Kentucky’s deplorable history concerning graduation and dropout reporting, the KDE comes across as seriously unable to implement something that has been a known requirement for three years.

Along the way, the KDE unfortunately creates an impression that it is standing in the way of public transparency on an absolutely critical set of education data – data that is currently a hot discussion item even with the governor’s wife.

Continued delays in getting more accurate high school graduation rate data to the public are inexcusable. Here’s why.

The KDE has known since 2008 that it had to adopt a more accurate graduation rate formula this year using the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) calculation. KDE admitted this in Appendix B in the Non-Academic Briefing Packet for the 2008 data, which was released to the public on May 19, 2009, more than two years ago. The KDE had more than adequate time to plan this change and check for problems.

There’s a lot more.

The KDE has the data required for the calculations now because they ‘lag’ non-academic data reporting by a year to insure they do. You see, the pending report won’t cover graduation rates for the Class of 2011. The delayed release covers Kentucky’s High School Class of 2010. Those kids have been out of school for a year. There has been plenty of time to collect and correct the data.

Furthermore, the KDE did release data on the “Transition to Adult Life” today. The supporting Excel Spreadsheet includes information on the total number of diplomas plus high school completion certificates awarded to the Class of 2010 (see the column labeled “TOTGRD”). The KDE cannot claim it does not have that data.

Other data used to compute the AFGR includes the class’ 9th grade and 10th grade fall membership (enrollment) counts. That data was collected way back in the early winter of the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school terms. The membership data should have been reviewed and corrected years ago. Any changing of that data now, so long after the fact, is likely to create more errors rather than fewer.

So, the KDE absolutely must have the data required. In fact, they have had everything required in hand for almost a year.

For sure, the KDE certainly can’t claim they didn’t have enough notice about the requirement to change to the AFGR. This formula was developed and publicly released by the US Department of Education way back in 2006 in a two-volume report (Volume 1 here and Volume 2 here).

The federal government did all this work so states like Kentucky that didn’t have high quality student tracking programs could still report reasonably accurate graduation rates.

As an interesting note, the two-volume federal report says the feds checked the AFGR formula along with other formulas then in use in two states that already had high quality data. The AFGR performed the best. In sharp contrast, the ‘Loser Formula’ (Oops, I mean “Leaver Rate Formula”), the one Kentucky has been using since No Child Left Behind began, was found to be the most inaccurate and inflated of all the formulas tested. Federal research indicates the Leaver Rate returns numbers about 10 points too high. That agrees with actual data from Kentucky.

The graph below shows our AFGR by year through 2007-08 as reported by the federal National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In 2007-08, the AFGR for Kentucky was 74.4 percent. That same year, the KDE reported a graduation rate of 84.52 percent, over 10 points higher.

By the way, notice that Kentucky’s AFGR is in decline for the last two years of data in the graph. Also note that our recent performance is not as good as AFGRs that Kentucky enjoyed just after KERA was enacted back in 1990 and before it had much chance to impact kids already in the school system.

Let’s summarize. The ‘right stuff’ to compute a better graduation rate has been known nationwide since 2006. Kentucky has had all the required data to do the calculation for years.

Also in 2006, the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts performed an official audit of the KDE’s graduation and dropout reporting.

That audit also showed KDE was seriously under-reporting the true number of high school dropouts.

Again, it was known way back in 2006 that the KDE wasn’t providing accurate dropout and graduation rate data to the public.

It is now 2011. Even though the data to compute AFGRs have been available for years, we are being asked to wait even longer while some sort of ‘scrub’ of the data takes place. How much can you scrub counts of the number of diplomas you hand out and the number of enrollment cards you counted up on November first in each school?

There is still more.

In the past, the KDE always released all the non-academic data together, but allowed the schools and districts to respond if there were problems. Why is this release being handled any differently?

The most likely reason for the delay is that the data looks bad – as expected – so our educators are trying to figure out some spin on how to minimize the shock.

The sad thing is, by drawing this process out even more, our educators mostly just raise more concerns about their willingness to be open with the public about the performance of Kentucky’s schools. There are some shortcomings with the AFGR formula, but those don’t come close to justifying the continuing trail of denial and secrecy that has surrounded graduation rate reporting in Kentucky since it first began after NCLB was enacted.

Enough is quite enough. KDE has the data. I want to see it – NOW – while there is time over the summer for local boards of education and education leaders to take action if necessary. I am tired of more and more kids being sacrificed while educators go on hiding information on their performance.

If districts find problems with KDE’s new data, we can use the very same corrections process that has always been applied with past non-academic data releases. However, since all the numbers used to calculate the AFGR are all about a year old, or older, there shouldn’t be much correcting needed.

One more point. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been an audit in this area since 2006. With all the delays and nonsense going on, maybe it will be time for another one after the 2011 data is finally released. However, unlike last time, data used for the AFGR should be easier for the auditor to track and verify, something any school districts that might be tempted to fudge their AFGR should carefully consider.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The first step in making any improvement is to accept the reality of existing performance. Graduation rates are supposedly very important in Kentucky. However, education officials can't seem to get a system capable of providing them the information.

In the real world the commissioner would direct each district to use pencil, paper, and the telephone to keep up with the count. We pay hard-earned tax dollars for the education people to figure out a way to keep our students engaged and enrolled.

The problem is no one holds them accountable for anything. Why should they care? They get paid anyway regardless of results!

Reality is probably they didn't like the numbers so it's SPIN time again on Kentucky numbers.

News flash - if you don't change anything in the system, why do you expect different results? The union has everyone's hands tied by controlling the legislature and the site-based councils. Good for the union! They will rule until some education leader cares more about the kids than the way Kentucky does business around here in education.

Forget the spin. Face the facts. Reform the system. Or get out of the business. We don't have any more dollars to pay to finger-pointing education folks that won't take ownership for their results. Yes, it is their results - not parents, not broken homes, not free lunch folks, not the community.

No guts, no glory. Step up to the plate, look reality in the eye, and then do something about it.

Release the data now!