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"One of the first things we need to do is look at the varying definitions, standards, and tracking systems throughout the country to gain a better understanding of the problem so that we can tackle it head on."

While the U.S. Department of Education has made significant gains in standardizing the measurement of student achievement levels through test scores, relatively little progress has been made in standardizing the calculation of graduation and dropout rates across states. According to a recent article in Education Week, changes are underway.

The article quoted Robert Lerner, the commissioner of education statistics at the National Center for Education Statistics, who said that NCES is conducting a study of the ways that data on high school completion could be collected and analyzed more effectively. However, to date there is no common measure of high school graduation or dropout rates at the school level.3

Lerner’s statement comes on the heels of a press release issued by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige in December 2003, announcing the creation of a new expert panel to study high school dropout and graduation rates.

“There is no question that we must focus our efforts on helping students graduate from high school,” Secretary Paige said. “One of the first things we need to do is look at the varying definitions, standards, and tracking systems throughout the country to gain a better understanding of the problem so that we can tackle it head on.”

The release acknowledged that current data collection and reporting systems are not in place in most states to “directly track students through their grade-to-grade progression or their movement in and out of schools.” As part of their responsibilities the panel will “consider the uses of graduation and related statistics, review existing rates and the data that underlie them, examine concerns that have been raised about existing measures and make recommendations for improving data collection and estimation procedures.” The group began meeting earlier this year, but a timetable on the release of their initial report is unclear.

The U.S. Department of Education’s press release, with a complete listing of the members of the panel is available at

The Education Week article is available at


1 – In his fiscal 2005 budget, President Bush proposed $100 million for a Striving Readers program that would help improve the skills of teenage students who read below grade level. On Sept. 10, the House of Representatives approved $100 million for the program as part of the fiscal 2005 Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill. The bill now awaits action in the Senate, but passage is not expected until after the election. An “Alliance Alert,” which will be issued during the week of Sept. 13, will have more information on totals for other programs. (back to article)

2 – High schools that fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress can avoid being labeled “in need of improvement” under the NCLB’s “safe harbor” provision if they: (1) reduce the proportion of students in the applicable category who are nonproficient on assessment scores by 10 percent; and (2) make the performance goal for graduation rates for that category. (back to article)

3 – In response to this gap in educational data, researchers Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters of Johns Hopkins University have developed an indirect measure of school-level dropout rates that serves as an indicator of schools with low graduation rates and high dropout rates. This measure-promoting power-is calculated using the Common Core of Data, which includes enrollment numbers by grade level for every public high school in the United States. Promoting power calculates, as a percentage, the difference between the number of twelfth-grade students enrolled at a given school in the beginning of an academic year to the number of ninth-grade students enrolled at that school four years prior. Their study Locating the Dropout Crisis was reviewed in the July 12th issue of Straight A’s and is available here)

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.