Blog: The Educated Reporter

Are the New High School Graduation Rate Guidelines Causing Your District Problems?

New federal guidelines on how states should calculate their high school graduation rates are making some education leaders nervous. The revised formula, the outcome of a 2008 policy update that went into effect last year, is driving down the completion rate for many school districts and states compared to percentages from previous years.

The updated features in the most recent formula aim to provide a more standardized method of comparing state progress in lowering the dropout rate. All local education authorities will abide by the four-year cohort rate. Yet as Bill Turque of The Washington Post noted, “alternative and non-traditional” schools and programs for students who aren’t on the traditional four-year track will fall into the four-year cohort rate. The broader regulations put in a bind those schools that deal with troubled teens or older pupils who have struggled in traditional academic settings.

Districts have been preparing for the transition in at least one way; the new rules expect exact tallies of how many first-time freshman are enrolled, which are then compared to graduation data four years later. In the past, many states relied on estimates rather than more precise headcounts.

How is your school district or state education agency responding to the new graduation rate formula? Have town hall-style meetings been organized to address concerns from parents and other community leaders that the revamped calculations are a signal of worsening academic fortunes? Separately, have interest groups in your region used the changes as an occasion to make disingenuous claims about declining performance levels?

And how is your news outlet covering this fait accompli? If you have stories you’ve written on the topic, send them along!