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States Inch Ahead on Reporting Graduation Data

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 30, 2010 4 min read
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More than eight years after the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law, some states still aren’t complying with its requirement that they report graduation rates for subgroups of students, such as English-language learners or economically disadvantaged children.

But officials from some of those states now say they’ve gained the capacity to report those numbers and will be ready when the federal government requires graduation rates for subgroups of students to be used to judge adequate yearly progress under the law in the 2011-12 school year.

In the 2007-08 school year, the most recent for which state-by-state data reported to the federal government are available, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia reported a graduation rate only for “all students,” not for any subgroups, in their consolidated state performance reports to the U.S. Department of Education.

Nine additional states were missing graduation rates for at least two of the required subgroups of students. States are required to break out graduation rates for major racial and ethnic groups, children with disabilities, ELLs, economically disadvantaged students, migrant students, males, and females.

Education officials in Connecticut and Kentucky now say they are poised to be in compliance.

Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut education department, said in an interview that a lack of resources had stalled the state’s capacity to report disaggregated graduation-rate data, but that the state is ready to do so.

“We’ve been building a database with a unique student identifier for the Race to the Top [federal grant competition], stabilization aid, and for our own appropriate next steps,” he said.

Connecticut reported a graduation rate for all the required subgroups of students, including ELLs, for the first time to the public in March and will report disaggregated graduation rates to the federal government this school year.

Kentucky also has been developing a system that assigns each student an identifier as a means of reporting graduation rates for the required student subgroups. At the earliest, the state expects to report disaggregated graduation-rate data to the federal government during the 2011-12 school year, said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky education department.

The disaggregated data will be “helpful,” said Ms. Gross. “Ethnically, we are not very diverse in Kentucky, but we have a huge gap in performance between African-American and white students on state tests.We know there is likely a gap in the area of graduation rates and dropout data, so we have to address that.”

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—whose current version is the NCLB law—could change how disaggregated graduation rates are reported if provisions in the law for adequate yearly progress are altered. But a number of education groups support the disaggregation of data for subgroups of students, including ELLs, so it’s likely states will be required to continue to report the data to the federal government, regardless of the fate of AYP.

“Graduation-rate data overall and by subgroup are important for instructional purposes,” Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the federal Education Department, said in an e-mail. “In particular, these data can help target interventions.”

He said that some states have not reported graduation rates for some required subgroups for reasons such as not having data systems with the capacity to do so, experiencing problems with data processing, and changing methods of calculating a graduation rate. A requirement for disaggregation of the graduation rate is “the best way to ensure that there’s not a perverse incentive to push kids out of school,” said Phillip D.C. Lovell, the vice president for federal advocacy for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based policy and advocacy group.

If school districts were to break out only test scores and not graduation rates for subgroups of students, they could show they were reaching 100 percent proficiency even if many low-performing students had left school and not graduated, he explained.

Way Behind on ELLs

States particularly have lagged behind in meeting the requirement of the NCLB law to report a graduation rate for English-language learners. In the 2006-07 school year, 12 states plus the District of Columbia were missing that statistic in their reports to the federal government. In the 2007-08 school year, nine states plus the District of Columbia were still out of compliance.

Nevada, with about 74,000 English-learners, is one of the states that haven’t had the capacity to report graduation rates for ELLs.

Nevada will report disaggregated graduation data for ELLs and other required subgroups for the first time with the class of 2011, in time to have the data to use for AYP during the 2011-12 school year, said Steve P. Canavero, the director of the Nevada education department’s office of charter schools, who was formally a consultant in the state agency’s accountability office.

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2010 edition of Education Week as States Inch Ahead on Reporting Subgroup Graduation Data

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