For struggling education systems trying to lift achievement, every percentage point counts. The pressure to demonstrate improvement can lead to some questionable calculations by school districts. That’s why it’s important for taxpayers to heed the lessons of good teachers and double-check the math.
Earlier this year, the Clark County School District reported a whopping 10-percentage-point increase in its graduation rate from 2012 to 2013. Some of those gains were the result of educators going above and beyond to keep students in school and on track. Most of the improvement was attributable to verifying student transfers into other education systems, rather than classifying them as dropouts.
It turns out, an additional change in the way the graduation rate was calculated explained some of the statistical jump. As reported Sunday by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard, more than 1,000 high school seniors who were transferred into adult education programs or pursued a General Educational Development certificate were excluded from the graduation rate math. That omission lifted the school district’s graduation rate an additional 3 percentage points. Had those students been included among those who graduated and those who fell short of earning a diploma, the school district’s graduation rate for 2013 would have been 69 percent instead of 72 percent.
According to education officials and experts interviewed by Mr. Milliard, this is not standard reporting practice around the country. Federal regulations require that a student who enrolls in a “GED program, or leaves school for any other reason may not be counted as having transferred out,” and adult education transfers are not excluded from other states’ graduation rates. Although Nevada’s adult education programs grant diplomas, hardly any students who enter the system complete the required work. Mr. Milliard reports that, by 2013, not one of the 982 Clark County high school seniors who transferred into adult education earned a diploma within four years.
If failing students are being shipped into a program that graduates no one, it’s completely disingenuous for school districts to wipe them off the books as transfers. Nevada is “running the risk of sweeping students who most need our help under the rug,” said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy for The Education Trust.
Clark County Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and state Superintendent Dale Erquiaga must be brutally honest with taxpayers about the performance of their schools if they want more public support for education. Inflating the graduation rate through cynical numbers games further devalues a high school diploma in desperate need of a more rigorous academic foundation. The state and the county should vow to be more open and accountable, and provide the public with data that reflect as much.