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OPEN WIDE AND SAY “AHH”: NGA Annual Checkup Finds Some States Making Progress in Implementing Graduation Rate Reporting Agreement

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“State data systems take time to construct and become fully operational.”

In 2006, all 50 governors and 12 national organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education, signed a “Compact on State High School Graduation Data”, agreeing to take a variety of steps to improve the reliability of the graduation rates they report. One year later, the NGA issued Implementing Graduation Counts: State Progress to Date, a report that will serve as an annual checkup on states’ progress toward implementing the compact.

By signing the compact, governors agreed to begin improving state data collection and to implement a standard 4-year graduation rate that reports the percentage of students who graduated within 4 years of their initial enrollment in ninth grade, with adjustments for transfers in and out of the system. Under the formula agreed to, states will divide the number of on-time diploma recipients in a given year by the number of first-time students entering ninth grade 4 years earlier.

According to the report, two states, Maryland and Colorado, took separate paths to codify the governors’ agreement for calculating a high school graduation rate, with Maryland passing legislation and Colorado acting through state board regulations. Codification is especially important because the compact is neither a binding agreement nor a self-executing document. On its face, the compact is simply an agreement between a governor and his colleagues. Without an act from the legislature to recognize the agreement, there is no legal obligation for a subsequent governor to honor the compact after his predecessor leaves office. Nor does a governor’s signature guarantee that other state officials, including the chief state school officer, will buy into the compact or work to achieve its goals.

However, as the report notes, even without codification, many states have made progress in their efforts to honor the agreement. In 2006, 13 states will report their graduation rates publicly according to the compact formula; 2 states will use the compact formula, but with local data; and 1 state will report a sophisticated estimate that is consistent with the NGA’s recommendations. By 2010, 39 states expect to report a graduation rate using the compact’s definition. Two states, North Dakota and South Dakota, do not plan to report graduation rates according to the compact formula.

The delay in reporting the compact graduation rate stems from a states’ lack of longitudinal data systems that are capable of tracking students’ progress from ninth grade through graduation. “State data systems take time to construct and become fully operational,” the report reads. “Once unique student identifiers are assigned and a state starts collecting data, it will be 4 years before the ninth graders in that year reach their expected graduation date.”

The good news is that 19 states have longitudinal data systems with unique student identifiers and at least 4 years of student data. The remaining 31 states are developing their data systems but are at very different points in the process, according to the report. In the interim, the U.S. Department of Education has begun publishing states’ Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) alongside the graduation rates that states currently report under the No Child Left Behind Act. In addition, Congress has allocated $49.3 million over the last 2 years for states to use in setting up these data systems, with additional funds expected later this year.

The report acknowledges that much more work needs to be done. It offers additional guidance to states about how to implement the graduation rate in the compact, as well as short-term solutions for improving state data while data systems are in development. It adds that once a state has the data necessary to calculate the compact rate, states must provide guidance and training to school and district personnel who collect and enter student information. Finally, state leaders should enact and enforce policies that promote accurate data collection and analysis, “such as one requiring students whose status is unknown be coded as dropouts.”

The complete report, which includes additional information on the progress of each individual state, is available athttp://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0608GRADPROGRESS.PDF.

 

Flush With Cash, State Budgets Spend More Money on Education

 

States finished FY 2006 with nearly 25% more money in year-end balances than they did at the end of FY 2005, according to State Budget and Tax Actions 2006: Preliminary Report. The report, issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), also finds that for the first time in 6 years, states spent more money on K–12 education than they did on Medicaid, a mandated health care program for the poor and disabled.

According to the report, in states where legislators used the new revenue to increase support for programs, education was the most common beneficiary, with 24 states boosting K–12 education funding, and 20 putting more money toward higher education. In total, 24 states spent more on K–12 education funding in 2006 than they did in 2005. On average, states are expected to increase their spending on K–12 by 7.9%. Of the 49 states that reported information to the NCSL, 12 reported double-digit increases, with Texas (27.7%), Wyoming (14.5%), and Alabama (14%) among the largest. Only Indiana, Kansas, and Minnesota planned to spend less on education in 2007.

States also used the surplus funds to cut taxes and to make payments to rainy-day funds. Altogether, 25 states increased reserve funds, with 18 of those making deposits specifically to rainy-day accounts. Although states’ bottom lines are currently healthy, experts predict higher spending and lower revenues in the near future. In fact, state balances are expected to fall by 29% by the end of FY 2007.

More information on the report is available at http://www.ncsl.org/programs/press/2006/pr060815fiscalreport.htm.

 

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