College & Workforce Readiness Federal File

Mixed Signals

By Michelle R. Davis — June 20, 2006 1 min read

The office of the Department of Education’s inspector general has come down hard on South Dakota, condemning the way the state calculates and reports its dropout and graduation rates.

In a June 7 report, Sherri L. Demmel, the department’s Dallas-based regional inspector general for audits, found that while the state reported both graduation rates and dropout rates, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, it collected unreliable data to make those calculations. In particular, Ms. Demmel objected to the use of a one-year cohort of students for its formula rather than a four-year cohort. The one-year cohort inflated the graduation rate, she found.

There’s just one small problem: The Education Department itself had already given South Dakota’s methods for collecting the data the thumbs-up.

In a letter responding to the inspector general’s office’s findings, South Dakota Secretary of Education Rick Melmer, drew attention to the fact that his state’s system had been approved by federal education officials.

“Although you state that the above described methodology does not meet the NCLB-required definition of a graduation rate, it was clearly described in the accountability workbook approved by the agency (USDOE) which regulates NCLB,” Mr. Melmer wrote in his April 20 response to a draft of the federal audit.

The inspector general’s report recognized that the Education Department’s office of elementary and secondary education had approved the state’s formula for those calculations, but stated flatly that “the methodology does not meet NCLB,” Ms. Demmel wrote.

Chad Colby, an Education Department spokesman, said there “were some inconsistencies” found involving South Dakota, “but we’re moving to correct them.”

The audit report also says that South Dakota’s dropout data were inaccurate, finding that some students were classified as transfers when they had either dropped out or continued in the same school, and that others were classified as dropouts when they had transferred.

Ms. Demmel recommended that the federal Education Department require the state to devise new procedures for calculating and documenting dropout and graduation data.

Though Mr. Melmer did not agree with a majority of the audit findings, he acknowledged in his letter “that our oversight can be improved.”

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A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week

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