Fact #1: We cannot compare dropout rates when there are different ways of calculating a rate.
Various ways of calculating the dropout rate reveal different ways of thinking about the issue.
- Event rate indicates the number of students who leave high school each year and is compared with previous years.
- Status rate, a cumulative rate much higher than the event rate, denotes the proportion of all individuals in the population who have not completed high school and were not enrolled at a given point in time.
- Cohort rate describes the number of dropouts from a single age group or specific grade (or cohort) of students over a period of time.
- The high school completion rate indicates the percentage of all persons ages 21 and 22 who have completed high school by receiving a high school diploma or equivalency certificate.
Fact #2: Current dropout rates are not reliable.
The unreliability of official public high school graduation rates is well known. It is so well known that last year, the National Governors Association (NGA) released a report that stated: “Unfortunately, the quality of state high school graduation and dropout data is such that most states cannot accurately account for their students as they progress through high school.”
Fact #3: Evaluating a school or district on their current dropout rate can be misleading and dangerous.
In fact, education experts say, none of the existing dropout-rate data gives a full picture. Governors are making changes that will yield better counts within a few years, they add. Accurate reporting is important because so much education policy now turns on statistics. Misleading data can do harm, says Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy. “If you raise doubts about the effectiveness of the schools, you can put into disrepute people’s efforts to reduce dropout rates. If you use less dramatic data, you can lull people into complacency.” Accurate numbers are needed, he says, “before we can fashion some solution.
Fact #4: Districts are pushing low performing students out the door before they need to be accountable for them.
No study has documented that the law has produced such an effect nationwide. Experts say they believe many low-scoring students are prodded to leave school, often by school officials urging them to seek an equivalency certificate known as a General Educational Development diploma. “They get them out so they don’t have them taking those tests,” said Wanda Holly-Stirewalt, director of a program in Jackson, Miss., that helps dropouts earn a G.E.D. We’ve heard that a lot. It happens all over the system.”
Prediction #1: Change may be on the way.
“Saying the nation’s public schools “need to get real about having kids graduate from high school on time,” U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings unveiled new regulations Tuesday that will require states to use a single graduation-rate formula within five years.