- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Maryland will review the way it tabulates high school graduation rates, after an independent audit showed that the state had misrepresented the numbers, a top education official said.

“It is not an insignificant problem,” said Ronald A. Peiffer, deputy state superintendent of academic policy at the Maryland Department of Education. “We are going to review it and take a closer look at the way we calculate these figures.”

The move comes after the Education Trust, a District-based nonprofit research firm, reported that the state had overestimated its graduation success rate by 11 percentage points for the 2001-2002 school year. The department reported that 84.6 percent of the students had graduated.

The numbers were filed in September, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“If a school is not making the graduation rate, they are not making adequate progress under No Child Left Behind, then there are sanctions placed on us, so it is important to get the numbers right,” Mr. Peiffer said.

The deputy state superintendent said sanctions can include the restructuring or reshuffling of the entire Maryland school system.

Mr. Peiffer said the state is following the system approved by the U.S. Department of Education — calculating the number of students in the ninth grade versus how many graduate four years later, then subtracting transfers and mortalities. He said the technique varies slightly from that of the way the trust had conducted its study.

He, however, thinks that the trust information is based on old data.

“We all pretty much respect [the trust’s] work,” Mr. Peiffer said. “In my mind, it is just an academic debate among mathematicians about the right calculation to use.”

Kevin D. Carey, senior policy analyst for the trust, said, “It does not matter how you came up with an inaccurate number if it is inaccurate.”

“The accuracy of graduation rates reporting is a long-standing problem,” Mr. Carey said.

“Few schools have done a good job of it. Historically they tend to overstate the graduation rates; in some cases the difference is the difference of the definition they use in some states.”

Maryland was not the only state to incorrectly tabulate the graduation-success rate, according to the study.

North Carolina reported a graduation rate of more than 92 percent, although it really was about 63 percent, according to the study.

The study also reported Alaska’s graduation rate to be about 63 percent, after the state had reported that it was above 84 percent.

South Carolina, which reported a graduation rate above 77 percent rate, was off by 21 percentage points. California, which reported 86.9 percent, was off by 20 percentage points.

Rhode Island, Wyoming and Nebraska figures were found to be correct, according to the study. Utah, Idaho and Oklahoma had more students who graduate than the states had reported, the study indicates.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said Friday that the National Institute of Statistical Sciences and the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the Department of Education, will review the methods for reporting high school dropouts and on-time graduates.

“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,” he said.

Mr. Carey said the trust is most concerned about the lack of minorities completing high school.

“It is a problem we can only solve once we figure out how large the problem is,” he said.

Mr. Peiffer said he expected the internal audit to be concluded by the end of January.

“We will go back and study this report,” he said. “I don’t know that we will make any changes.”

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