Thursday, July 28, 2011

Schools Can't Seem to Count Properly

In a story coming out of Kansas City, Forbes and the Associated Press are reporting that States across the country will be bracing for "plummeting high school graduation rates". Could these numbers be the result of the draconian cuts to education by evil Republicans at the national level? Perhaps they are the result of reductions of funding from conservatively-led State governments unable to support local districts at the same levels in a down economy? Maybe its just local districts facing lost revenues from the reduced housing values that are being experienced across the country? Certainly it could have nothing to do with curriculum, textbook accuracy, or the dedication of classroom educators. The truth of the matter is that these numbers will be dropping because it appears that many States were not tracking individual students but were instead using a form of sampling. In other words, they have been using flawed calculation methods in determining these graduation rates. As a result these errors in theory and math, States could "see numbers fall by as much as 20 percentage points". The article goes on to say: 

"Much of the blame for past problems went to something called the "leaver method," a popular calculation for determining graduation rates also gained a reputation for being the most generous. The method, used by about half the states last year, works like this: If a school had 100 graduates and 10 students who dropped out from their freshmen to senior year, 100 would be divided by 110, giving the school a graduation rate of 90.9 percent. Schools weren't dinged if students took more than four years to graduate. When students disappeared, they often were classified as transfers, even though some of them had actually dropped out. Many schools weren't required to document that transfers showed up somewhere else." 

Michigan, which made the switch four years ago, says its graduation rate drop by 10%. In Kansas, the rate is expected to drop from 89% to 80% this year as it makes the transition (though one district is anticipating a 20% drop). Georgia school officials have stated that their rate could drop some 15% statewide. Interestingly enough, it's the Department of Education that is mandating the conversion to more accurate counting methods; and it's the DOE that could be mandating sanctions against individual districts and states as part of the benchmarks in "No Child Left Behind". 

Also interesting is the hoopla surrounding the change in the calculation method. In these days when residents in so many local districts are resisting property tax increases or additional levies, there is apparently considerable concern that these apparent drops in graduation rates would have a negative impact on public perception of education. 

Really? While this may in fact be the case, I would think that even more may be concerned that those responsible for teaching their children math skills have been attempting to circumvent proper calculation methods in the name of expediency, government funding, and public perception. Of concern to me as well, is the concept that rather than apologize for these factually correct but lower numbers, what we are hearing is yet more obfuscation of the issue. 

In a statement quoted in the piece by Kelly Smith, superintendent of the Belle Plaine school district, which is southwest of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, "The new system is not changing what we're doing in our schools, and we need to get that point across." 

All I can say in reply to Kelly Smith and many of the rest in education is: "I'm not sure if you should be more ashamed of these graduation rates or the false and self-serving methods of calculation that you were using. As to not changing what you're doing in schools however, perhaps you should ... "

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