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TELLING THE WHOLE TRUTH (OR NOT): New Reports from the Education Trust Shed Light on Reporting Highly Qualified Teachers and Graduation Rates

"Many states seem to have taken advantage of the department's lax oversight to choose calculation methods that portray a rosier picture than external sources suggest."

In its recent reports, Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About Highly Qualified Teachers and Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About High School Graduation Rates, the Education Trust reveals wide-spread “contradictions and inconsistencies” in the state-reported data on teacher quality and high school graduation rates required by No Child Left Behind. Additionally, the organization asserts that the U.S. Department of Education has not provided the leadership and enforcement necessary to produce accurate data. According to Kati Haycock, Director of the Education Trust, “Many states seem to have taken advantage of the department’s lax oversight to choose calculation methods that portray a rosier picture than external sources suggest.”

In response to the Education Trust reports, Gene Hickok, Acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, issued a statement on the department’s role in collecting data on teacher quality and high school dropouts:

I strongly disagree with the conclusions of the Education Trust’s two recent reports. . .[The Department has] worked diligently, conscientiously, and daily with the states on their data collection efforts. . .These data empower parents to hold their school systems and states accountable, which is why we have treated this information with such importance and urgency. Any conclusion otherwise is misinformed and, quite simply, wrong. While we always welcome outside scrutiny of the Department’s work, sadly it seems others find it much easier to throw bricks than to be constructive and build the house.


In its teacher quality report, Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About Highly Qualified Teachers, the Education Trust outlines the importance of teacher content knowledge on student achievement and reveals that many states do not pay sufficient attention to this element in their teacher quality standards. This issue affects students in high-poverty schools most significantly. In high-poverty schools, 41 percent of classes are taught by a teacher without a major in the subject, compared to 25 percent in low-poverty schools. The report points out that while no state has the perfect definition of a highly qualified teacher, some states (Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, and Tennessee) appear to have made a “good faith effort” toward reflecting the necessary depth and breadth of teacher content knowledge in their standards. Meanwhile, 17 states do not currently include subject matter content as a criterion for secondary certification.

Telling the Whole Truth (or Not) About High School Graduation Rates, outlines inconsistencies among states in measuring graduation rates. These differences result in widely fluctuating graduation rates among states. They also often lead to an understatement the severity of the dropout problem. As a means of standardization, the Education Trust uses methodology developed by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute, which compares the number of students in eighth grade in a given year to the number of graduates reported five years later. Comparing the results using this methodology with state self-reported results, the report reveals that in many states dropout rates are drastically underestimated. In four states the difference exceeded 20 percent. Additionally, state reported graduation rates for Latino and African-American students were often particularly misleading, with eight states reporting graduation rates that diverged from the Greene estimate by 20 to 25 percentage points.

The inaccuracy of the state data outlined in both of the Education Trust reports is disappointing. Teacher quality and graduation rates are two measures required by NCLB, which are meant to provide an accurate assessment of student progress and to establish a baseline to measure the improvement and needs of each state’s education system. Without accurate data, states and the U.S. Department of Education will be less able to identify areas of need, ultimately making it more difficult for every student to succeed.

Another new report on graduation rates, The Education Pipeline in the United States, 1970-2000, examines enrollment and graduation rates nationally and by state and found that over the last thirty years the rate at which students disappear between grades 9 and 10 has tripled. According to one of the authors, Dr. Walter Haney, “The findings are quite disturbing. Despite all of the high-sounding rhetoric about reforming our schools, the data on enrollment and graduation demonstrate that many states hold students back in 9th grade, encourage dropping out, and graduate a declining percentage of students.”

Both Education Trust reports are available at:

The complete statement from Deputy Secretary Hickok is available at:

The Education Pipeline in the United States, 1970-2000 is available from the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy at:

Expert Panel to Review High School Dropout and Graduation Rates


The U.S. Department of Education recently announced the formation of a panel of experts to review the methods for reporting high school dropouts and on-time graduates.

“There is no question that we must focus our efforts on helping students graduate from high schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “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.”

A department press release about the panel noted that the number of diplomas awarded represents only about two-thirds of ninth-graders who entered public schools four years earlier. The release also raised the possibility that there may be substantial differences in the way states define a dropout. This discrepancy is difficult to quantify because there is no data about the degree to which states vary in their definitions of students who drop out, chronically truant students, and students who moved to another state.

Using current statistics, the expert panel will examine the inconsistencies in existing measures and make recommendations for improving data collection and estimation procedures.

To read the complete release and see the panel of experts, visit:


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