Wednesday, July 27, 2011

AP: Honest high school graduation rates finally coming to a state near you

Someday, even to your state

This AP news story, which is cropping up like mushrooms in news outlets all over the country, is going to play out in Kentucky, as well.

Bluntly put, now that education agencies around the nation are finally being forced to get honest about high school graduation rates, the inflated claims of the past are about to tumble in most states.

Note, as I have previously mentioned, the AP article correctly says Kentucky will be the last, along with Idaho, to finally get truly accurate high school graduation rate data. The first report with such data won’t be released until 2014, by the way, just shy of a quarter of a century after KERA was enacted.

Because of our laggardly performance, the US Department of Education is requiring us to start reporting high school graduation rates this summer with a new formula that was extensively researched in 2006. This formula was found to work best in states like ours that had not yet developed decent student tracking programs.

Look for Kentucky’s high school graduation rates to drop somewhere around 10 points statewide. Instead of somewhere around 84 percent, we’ll likely fall in the mid-70 percent range.

However, if they don’t ‘alter’ their data (an unfortunate temptation), some individual school districts in the state are going to see their bubbles burst a lot more severely.

BTW, schools that might be tempted to ‘jiggle’ their data this year just to look good might be making a really bad choice. Data to calculate the new formula exists for many previous years in Kentucky for both the state and individual schools, so trend lines can readily be established.

And, the data for prior years already are publicly available.


Any sudden trends of improvement this year are going to stick out – just like, say, a sudden jump in ACT scores in Perry County.

Furthermore, because the US Secretary of Education is breathing fire about cheating on state testing used for No Child Left Behind, and because high school graduation rates are also used for NCLB, messing with the now more easily audited graduation rate data might bring federal as well as state heat.

Anyway, I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

In fact, I started telling Kentucky our dropout and graduation rate reporting was messed up in the mid-1990s. Maybe if people had listened back then, we’d have recognized how serious the problem was long ago and would have fixed much of the problem by now.

Instead, thanks to inaccurate reporting, we’ve probably been losing on the order of 10,000 kids a year since KERA began, every single year.

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