College & Workforce Readiness

Report Faults Calif. on Graduation Calculation

By John Gehring — March 29, 2005 4 min read

California overstates the number of students graduating from high school and should use more accurate measures for tracking dropouts, a study released last week contends.

“Confronting the Graduation Crisis in California,” a 14-page analysis by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, argues that misleading reporting of dropout and graduation rates has provided a skewed picture of how many students are graduating in the state and around the nation.

“Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California” is available from the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. ()

Like many states, California uses a “flawed National Center for Education Statistics formula that dramatically underestimates the actual number of dropouts,” according to the March 24 report, which includes work by researchers at Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities, the Urban Institute, and the University of California system.

Gary Orfield, the director of the Civil Rights Project, said the federal center, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, relies on states to report graduation and dropout figures, even though they are far from reliable.

“Most schools don’t really know when students transfer, and they have no incentive to report that students have dropped out,” said Mr. Orfield, who is a professor of education and social policy at Harvard’s graduate school of education. “Both state and federal governments need to step up to the plate to get accurate data.”

See Also

View the accompanying item,

Chart: California Graduation Rates

While federal lawmakers recognized the need to pay more attention to dropouts by including graduation-rate accountability measures in the No Child Left Behind Act, the report says, federal education officials have not been vigilant about enforcing those measures.

“One of our most serious concerns isn’t just about more accurate reporting,” said Daniel J. Losen, a senior education law and policy associate at the Civil Rights Project. “We need much better accountability for graduation rates. State after state, district after district, we have extremely lax accountability. Our focus is entirely on test scores.”

‘Promotion Index’

While California reported a strong overall graduation rate of 86 percentin 2002, researchers for the new study say the figure does not match reality.

Among other problems, schools and districts often lose track of students, and classify students who never receive diplomas as having successfully transferred to other schools. In some cases, the researchers note, even students who have ended up in prison are not counted as dropouts.

A more accurate way of tracking high school graduation rates, according to the report, would be to use the actual enrollment data that the nation’s school districts provide each year to the Common Core of Data, the primary database for the federal Department of Education.

The study highlights a “cumulative promotion index” that uses such data, developed by Christopher Swanson, a research associate with the Washington-based Urban Institute, as a more precise tool to measure graduation rates.

Using the index, the report says, the graduation rate for California students in 2002 would be 71 percent, slightly above the national average.

The model tracks students moving from grade to grade at the district and state levels, and allows for comparisons across years, districts, and states. The report also recommends providing every student with a “single lifetime school identification number” that would allow students to be tracked throughout an entire school career.

Richard Miller, the director of communications for the California education department, said the state agrees that the most accurate way to measure the extent of the dropout problem is to have a student-identification system.

Lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have supported such a step, he said, and the state hopes to have a system working in about a year.

Black and Latino students in California, according to the Harvard analysis, are three times more likely than white students to attend a high school where graduation is not the norm.

In the 740,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, researchers from the University of California system found that only 48 percent of black, Latino, and Native American students who started 9th grade in 1998 had graduated four years later.

Jose Huizar, the president of the Los Angeles board of education, acknowledged the need to better measure graduation and dropout rates.

“It would help if we had more accurate data,” he said during a telephone news conference last week. “We provide a huge disservice to our students if we don’t have that data.”

Creating smaller high schools to replace industrial-era facilities serving several thousand students, Mr. Huizar added, is one way the district can keep students engaged in school and prevent them from dropping out.

“A more personalized approach to education, so students will have more contact with adults, will go a long way,” he said.

The report includes information on 15 California high schools that “beat the odds” by graduating higher-than-expected percentages of students.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Measuring & Supporting Student Well-Being: A Researcher and District Leader Roundtable
Students’ social-emotional well-being matters. The positive and negative emotions students feel are essential characteristics of their psychology, indicators of their well-being, and mediators of their success in school and life. Supportive relationships with peers, school
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Fewer Students in Class of 2020 Went Straight to College
First-year college enrollment dropped steeply last year, a study finds, and the declines were sharpest among poorer students.
6 min read
Image shows University Application Acceptance Notification Letter with ACCEPTED Stamp
YinYang/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor Are Students Ready for Post-Pandemic Reality?
Schools must make improving students' essential skills a priority for college and career success, says the CEO and president of CAE.
1 min read
College & Workforce Readiness This Is Not a Good Time to Fall Off the College Track. Students Are Doing It Anyway
Fewer students in the Class of 2021 are applying for college financial aid, continuing a drop that started last year.
6 min read
Applications for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form are on the decline.
Applications for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form are on the decline.
Jon Elswick/AP
College & Workforce Readiness Student Interest in Health-Care Careers Takes Off During Pandemic
The coronavirus crisis is boosting a trend toward health-care and medical pathways. The challenge is getting students hands-on training.
7 min read
Nurse giving man injection
Getty