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Shining “The Flashlight” on the need for accurate high school graduation rates

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October 05, 2012 04:34 pm


Our mission and primary focus at the Alliance is ensuring that every student graduates from high school college-and-career-ready. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase from us a time or two, eh? In our efforts to reach this goal – from meeting with legislators to drafting briefs, reports and legislation, we need hard numbers. We use statistics daily here, and in order to be as effective as possible, we need the best, most accurate numbers possible. This is especially true when it comes to graduation rates. How can we focus on raising graduation rates if we don’t have an accurate assessment of where they currently stand?

The Data Quality Campaign, a partner of ours, looks at this very issue in one of the first posts on their new blog, The Flashlight. The post, “Common Graduation Rate Calculations in Danger – What We Should Do,” looks at the history and evolution of measuring high school graduation rate numbers.

Until seven years ago, states and districts used their own methods to calculate high school graduation rates. There was no common standard or methodology. “As a result,” Amilcar Guzman writes, “the graduation rates that were publicly reported and used for accountability and school improvement decisions were often misleading and not comparable across districts and states.”

In 2005, the National Governor’s Association decided to do away with the ambiguity in these results and developed a common formula to assess graduation rates. All 50 governors signed on to the initiative. The U.S. Department of Education followed suit in 2008, solidifying this agreement as federal policy, ensuring that graduation calculations would provide clarity, consistency and comparability.

All seemed on the right track until recently, when a loophole became evident: the Education Department’s issuance of waivers to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) allows states to use alternative methods to calculate graduation rates. Fast forward to present day, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan is making his way through a letter from education organizations, including the Alliance, that have strongly voiced their concern over this new policy. (Read the letter here.)

“High school graduation rates are a fundamental indicator of school and system success, and stakeholders – including parents – need to be able to trust them, understand what they mean, and be ble to use themt o compare schools across districts and states,” Guzman says. “To prevent this setback to clarity and comparability, ED and states both have a role to play in ensuring that the progress made since 2004 continues.”

The Alliance agrees.

To see Guzman’s full blog post and suggestions for putting this initiative back on track, visit the Data Quality Campaign’s blog, The Flashlight.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.