- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005


Most states are reporting lofty high school graduation rates that far exceed reality and mislead the public about how schools are performing, a private analysis has found.

The majority of states — 36 of them — say 80 percent to 97 percent of their high school students graduate on time, according to state figures provided to the Education Department.

Those numbers show “rampant dishonesty,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, an advocacy organization for poor and minority students. The Trust reviewed the 2002-03 graduation rates that states had to provide this year.

A series of independent analyses shows the graduation rate across the states is closer to 70 percent, meaning almost one-third of students don’t finish on time or at all. The nation’s governors have agreed, which puts their position at odds with their own state data.

President Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings have said this year that only 68 of every 100 ninth-graders will graduate on time. Yet only 11 states put their graduation rates in the 60 percent or 70 percent range, the report finds.

“Every single day we do this, we further erode public confidence in the notion that public educators can be trusted,” Miss Haycock said. “It deprives the American public of the one piece of data they need to get excited about high school reform.”

Three states and the District reported no graduation rate data at all.

Under federal law, reading and math tests are the main ways states must judge student progress, but high schools also must count graduation rates. States generally are allowed to calculate the rates however they want, which makes comparisons across states meaningless.

The Council of Chief State School Officers plans to help states come up with a common system to collect and report data, said Scott Montgomery, the organization’s chief of staff.

Mr. Montgomery took issue with the report’s claim that states are playing with the numbers, saying, “I think it’s a serious mistake to say that states are being dishonest in the way they’re reporting graduation rates until we have real, common data to look at.”

The federal government acknowledges that the lack of uniformity in graduation and dropout rates is a problem that confuses parents and casts doubt about how well schools are doing.

An Education Department task force has recommended that states track each group of ninth-graders to determine whether every student graduates in four years.

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