Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — Almost two-thirds of high school students in city public schools do not earn diplomas, giving Baltimore the third-worst graduation rate in the nation, according to a study released by the publication Education Week.

The study, which analyzed 2004 data, found that 34.6 percent of Baltimore high school students graduated four years after they began school. Detroit had the worst graduation rate, 24.9 percent, and Cleveland was next, with 34.1 percent.

Baltimore school officials disputed Education Week’s findings, as they did last year when the journal pegged the city’s graduation rate at 38.5 percent, ranking ahead of only Detroit, at 21.7 percent.

Baltimore’s graduation rate dropped nearly four percentage points from 2003 to 2004, according to Education Week.

Ben Feldman, who is in charge of testing for city schools, said Baltimore looks worse than it should in the rankings in part because it has a large number of transient students.

The Education Week study uses data from the U.S. Department of Education to compare the number of students in an upper-level grade with the number of students a grade below in the previous year.

Researchers do not rely on schools to report that specific students have dropped out.

Mr. Feldman said the study doesn’t account for students who leave one school district without notification and register in another.

“It needs to span a four-year period, and it doesn’t do that,” Mr. Feldman said.

Christopher B. Swanson, the lead researcher for the Education Week study, acknowledged that its findings average about 15 percentage points lower than what states report as their graduation rates.

“Different measures generate different numbers, and these numbers have consequences, whether it’s for accountability or just public information,” Mr. Swanson said. “It’s a real challenge for the public to sort through this information.”

In December 2005, the National Governors Association signed a pact to implement a standard graduation-rate assessment, and the organization wants states to start using identification numbers to track students.

This fall, Maryland will start assigning students with ID numbers that will follow them as they move toward graduation. That should allow for better tracking of students who move from school to school or system to system, state education officials say.

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