Commentary Misleading on NAEP, Dropouts

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To the Editor:

The recent Commentary "Public Schools: Glass Half Full or Half Empty?" (Oct. 10, 2012), provides a problematic view of education progress that can easily backfire.

The authors fail to show and discuss the statistically flat performance in both reading and mathematics in the long-term-trend National Asssessment of Educational Progress for students at age 17, and use a clever graphic to hide nearly flat reading performance for students ages 9 and 13.

The real message of the long-term-trend NAEP is that the gains made in lower grades do not survive until high school graduation. This serious problem worries many.

The authors' high school dropout claims are also problematic. Many researchers of high school completion distrust dropout-rate figures. This was one of the reasons why Congress elected to use high school graduation rates in the No Child Left Behind Act.

In addition, the specific dropout data selected by the authors—the National Center for Education Statistics' "status dropout rate"—treats dropouts who later receive a General Educational Development credential as high school successes. Inclusion of GED recipients with regular high school diploma graduates further muddies the water as far as assessing the real performance of school systems. At present, the most reliable measure of high school completion is the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, or AFGR.

Table 111 in the 2011 edition of the Digest of Education Statistics shows the U.S. public school AFGR in 1969-1970 was 78.7 percent. In 2008-09, it was only 75.5 percent. Even the projected rate for 2009-10 is only 76.3 percent.

Thus, the best available information on high school completion since 1970 shows that graduation rates actually are lower recently than in the early 1970s.

None of this factual information does much to boost public confidence in schools, of course. And, educators citing problematic commentaries to try to claim otherwise won't boost that confidence level, either.

Richard Innes
Staff Education Analyst
Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions
Bowling Green, Ky.

Vol. 32, Issue 09, Page 26

Published in Print: October 24, 2012, as Commentary Misleading on NAEP, Dropouts
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