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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A loophole big enough to drive a convoy of dropouts through

What really is Jacksonville public schools graduation rate? -cpg

As Saturday's St. Petersburg Times story noted with a brief quote, Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith is not defending the state's graduation rate formula, which has a loophole big enough to drive a convoy of dropouts through. Keep reading to see his comments in more detail.

(To recap: the formula discounts thousands of students who transfer into adult education programs. A Times analysis shows that pumps up the state rate by 6 percentage points and some district rates even more. Hillsborough's much-touted rate falls from 82.3 percent to 70.4 percent when adult ed transfers are factored in. The loophole will close in 2011-12, when the state moves to yet another grad rate formula - the "federal uniform rate.")

Said Smith: "We lose track of them (adult ed transfers) and where they end up. They could be transferred to adult ed and be gone in a day and actually be a dropout but disguised ... "

"I wouldn't call it misleading. But it doesn't give you as pure a calculation as we can have, one that would allow us to compare success or lack of success within a school or a district across the state the way we would like to. The more exceptions you add, the more poorly defined it is. And it becomes a problem for us. We end up seeing things like you're identifying now ... "

The rate is "not as clear as it should be. Most people, when they hear the term graduation rate, they expect it to be the kids that march across your stage with a full high school diploma. And that's not what we're reporting today. We report that plus some exceptions. For mom and dad at home, it can lead to a misunderstanding about what the actual graduation rate is ... "

"I think what intensifies the problem is the graduation rate now part of high school accountability ... the increased focus and pressure on increasing the graduation rate, that sometimes could lead to some pretty bad choices with kids. If you don't keep it tight, the way you define it, it leaves it open to be gamed or misused or used inappropriately. I'm not saying that's widespread but it certainly could be something to occur. The way to avoid it is to tighten it up."

Taken from the St. Petersburg Times:


  1. What is it that we are trying to measure? What is the policy goal? Do we want to give an accurate number of students who begin and end secondary school with a traditional diploma or any completion certificate? I feel like this focus on graduation rates will lead to some ridiculous mandate like "100% of students will graduate from Florida schools by 2016." How are schools supposed to support that? Establish a secondary curriculum that will provide the best chance for success for students and give struggling students alternatives and safety nets and counseling when identified as potential dropouts. It seems like public education does all of those things. Unless there is proof that schools are actively discouraging kids from coming to school or providing an opportunity to complete the necessary graduation requirements, I continue to have a hard time understanding how this is a "schools" problem and not a "society" problem. What is the goal here? Why can't schools say "this is the educational product we are offering and we think it is sound, but if you don't like it we offer a few alternatives. if you don't like those, well...we're sorry." We could make going to the beach everyday a program of study and some kids might still drop out. Is that the school system's fault?

  2. You are absolutely correct with all your points.

    What infuriates me is localy the district touts the grad rate as a big achievement, when they must know it is misleading.

  3. We should be proud of higher graduation rates and we should always be looking for ways to get more kids to finish school. I just get mad when the state or district decide to take a look at graduation rates and conclude that this is a problem that schools alone must fix. If we are certain that we provide the best mix of programs possible to ensure a path for all students to succeed then the next step should be to reinforce the positives that come with graduating from high school or an adult ed alternative. Instead we use these numbers as one more indication that schools are awful and fail the kids at every turn. How about we use these numbers to indicate how few citizens take advantage of a comprehensive, publicly-funded education and are failing their kids?

  4. I talk about our grad rates a lot but to be honest i think it should be about the journey, if a kid finishes ready for college or the workforce what does it matter if it took an extra year or two. Sadly we are putting kids on the street on-time who aren't prepared for anything...

    I do agree we need more than our current one size fit all everybody is going to a good colege track we have now.