You would think that it would be simple. What is our high school graduation rate? What percentage of students who begin high school end up graduating four years later?
But if you stop to think of all the factors involved—students transferring into and out of district and state, students who take more than four years, students who pass a GED, students moving into and out of home schooling, students who die, etc.—it can become complicated.
The most simple-minded count is the "cohort rate": the percent of students from an entering 9th grade cohort who graduate with a standard diploma in four years. But that ignores all of those factors. A major influx of students due to an expanding military post could give that growing school a graduation rate of well above 100%.
Then there is the "composite rate": the proportion of students estimated to remain in high school until grade 12 and receive a diploma; calculated by multiplying the rate of persistence between grades 9 and 12 and the percent of completers who receive a diploma. That accommodates students who need five years to complete high school, but ignores most of the other cases.
The "cumulative promotion index" is used in the annual report Diploma Counts by the K-12 newspaper-of-record Education Week. Four steps are used including each of the three grade-to-grade promotions (9-to10, 10-to-11, and 11-to-12) and those who earn a diploma. It then multiplies grade specific promotion ratios together. A student who takes five years, and most of the other factors above, make a school look inadequate.
The "leaver rate" is based on the percent of students leaving high school with a standard diploma, expressed as a proportion of all those documented leaving with a diploma or other completion credential and would include the GED.
The "national governor’s rate" measures the number of on-time graduates in a given year divided by the number of first-time entering 9th graders four years earlier adjusted for transfers.
The "persistence rate" is the percent of students who remain in school from grade 9 through grade 12 calculated using the percent of students not dropping out, or the percent of students estimated to be promoted from grade-to-grade. But it is important to remember that the graduation rate is not the exact opposite of the dropout rate.
This last year, the U.S.D.E. required all states to use a uniform "adjusted cohort" similar to the national governor’s rate: the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier, adjusting for transfers in and out. Actual numbers for Kansas are available at the KSDE website.
The U.S. Department of Education claims this provides "greater uniformity and transparency" and will "raise the bar" on states. According to Secretary Duncan, "A common rate will help target support so more students graduate on-time by using more accurate data."
So a Kansas school that has a student who takes five or more years to graduate, or moves to home schooling, or who transfers out (but the school cannot find "to where?") is considered to have a dropout and is subject to the federal blame game.
Earlier this year, when the K.S.D.E. reported lower graduation rates under the new required formula, some Kansas newspapers suggested our schools had been hiding the true figures and were not as good as formerly portrayed. The reality is that Kansas still ranks well above the national average in graduation, and the new formula discounts students who are not "dropouts" at all.
Another case of federal simplemindedness versus Kansas commonsense.