School & District Management Reporter's Notebook

NGA Gauges Progress on Graduation Formula

By Michele McNeil — August 29, 2006 4 min read

A year after the nation’s 50 governors agreed to abide by a single formula for calculating graduation rates, two states have backed out of the pledge, and more are years away from meeting the new standard.

That’s according to a progress report prepared by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and released during the NGA’s annual meeting, held here earlier this month. The governors of the 50 states and Puerto Rico last year signed the “Graduation Counts Compact,” promising to use a standard formula for measuring the rate of students’ high school completion. (“Efforts Seek Better Data on Graduates,” July 27, 2005.)

But the center’s researchers found that North Dakota and South Dakota don’t plan to use the method, which measures the number of students who enter 9th grade against the number who graduate with a high school diploma four years later.

Other states’ progress is sluggish.

Missouri hasn’t even begun to collect data on 9th graders because its data system isn’t ready, and won’t be until at least 2008, the 17-page report says. Illinois’ graduation rate differs significantly from what the compact calls for because it factors in students who take longer than four years to graduate.

“While the governors’ compact represents a commitment to make progress in this area, one year later its potential remains unrealized,” Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust, said in a statement. “The need, however, remains urgent.”

The trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, published a report in June critical of the differing methods states use to calculate graduation rates.

Still, according to the NGA Center for Best Practices, 39 states are making significant progress by compiling the necessary data and preparing within four years to report the most accurate account yet of high school completion.

“I am surprised that so many states have made progress,” said Dane Linn, the education division director for the center. He pointed to Maryland as a model state for putting the compact on graduation rates into law.

The center’s report, “Implementing Graduation Counts: State Progress to Date,” is available at www.nga.org.

Have most federal officials passed 9thgrade civics?

It was a question asked by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the outgoing NGA chairman and a possible 2008 presidential contender, during a session with reporters at a dinner on the opening night of the Aug. 4-7 conference.

An overriding theme of his remarks—whether the topic was immigration, the National Guard, or health care—was his contention that the federal government is overstepping its bounds in telling states what to do.

Gov. Huckabee, a Republican, questioned whether federal officials had ever passed 9th grade civics. In fact, he repeated the question several times during the NGA meeting.

So does he think the federal government overreached by enacting the No Child Left Behind law?

“This may surprise you, but no,” Mr. Huckabee said during the session with reporters. He explained that he believes the 4½-year-old overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act gives states flexibility to set their own standards and implement their own testing systems.

As the NGA’s new leader, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will make education the centerpiece of her agenda.

Dubbed “Innovation America,” Gov. Napolitano’s initiative will focus on bolstering student achievement in mathematics and science, while making sure students understand how the skills learned in the classroom apply to real-world careers.

Math and science academies could be part of the mix.

Gov. Napolitano’s emphasis during her 2006-07 chairmanship will be on growing a workforce that meets the needs of particular regions—whether engineering in Washington state, agri-science in Iowa, or biosciences in Arizona.

A task force will meet throughout the year to develop and promote the NGA initiative. Ms. Napolitano, a Democrat, said her initiative would seek to merge similar state efforts into a model program that could be replicated.

“Our economy is in danger of falling behind,” she said in an interview. “We need to produce a workforce that can compete in the 21st century.”

Given the NGA’s emphasis on math and science, it was fitting that the conference featured a science fair, which showcased some of the brightest students in the country.

Graham Van Schaik, 16, from Columbia, S.C., tackled breast-cancer prevention by testing whether small amounts of pesticides found on common fruits, vegetables, and meats were enough to provoke abnormal human breast cells to grow.

Justin Solomon, 18, from Oakton, Va., showed off his 3-D face-recognition software, which he developed using advanced math and algorithms. He said his software could be used to better identify people, with possible uses in security and robotics.

And Morgen E. Anyan, who graduated this year from Selah High School in Selah, Wash., discovered a new way to remove metals from contaminated water.

“It’s natural, it’s safe, and it’s really very simple,” said Ms. Anyan, 18, whose explanation of how she conducted the research was anything but simple. She said she got interested in science in the 6th grade, when teachers required her to tackle in-depth research projects.

She’s planning to study environmental engineering at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., this fall.

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week

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