A national education advocacy group is criticizing the way states figure graduation rates, saying Iowa’s among the offenders. In calculating dropout rates, the Education Trust says the number of high-school freshmen should be compared with the total of seniors who graduate four years later…but too many states use other figures for comparison, like the number of seniors at the start of that year. Judy Jeffrey, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, says the group’s formula doesn’t account for students who transfer out of a school system. She says in some parts of the country more families move away than move in, and “the students may not be dropping out, they’re just going somewhere else to school.” Iowa reports a 90-percent graduation rate, but the Education Trust says it’s more like 78 percent. Jeffrey says her agency ran the group’s formula and found in a fast-growing community like Waukee it turned up the “fact” that the graduation rate was 124-percent, an impossible figure. Using it with a district where enrollment’s going down, the formula seems to show a tremendous drop in the graduation rate, because it didn’t account for the students who’ve moved away. Jeffrey says all the figures are estimates, but she thinks her department’s estimates are closer to correct. At any rate, she says Iowa’s just implemented a Student Identification System that’ll make tracking them far more accurate. She says in another 4 years they’ll be able to track every single student, to see if they actually graduated in the state. Jeffrey says like most states, Iowa uses the formula recommended by the National Center for Educational Statistics to calculate its graduation rates. Whether you believe the Education Trust figure or Iowa’s numbers, she says the graduation rates aren’t good enough, especially for the state’s Hispanic and African-American students. She says there’s too great a disparity between those and other groups and it has to be addressed.
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