New State Calculations to Lower Graduation Rates for Missouri School Districts
Missouri education officials say the new way of calculating graduation rates allows the state to compare how its students are doing with the rest of the country.
Monday, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released high school graduation rates calculated using a new method.
With the change in the way the rate is calculated, most districts in the state have a much lower rate than in the past.
"The U.S. Department of Education is requiring (states) to report the new four-year rate so we can compare how Missouri is doing to our neighbors in Kansas and Illinois," said Leigh Ann Grant-Engle, assistant commissioner for the Office of Data System Management. "It's another way to help us look at students and see if there's anything we need to do to provide them to help them graduate in four years."
States are required to report graduation rate data to the U.S. Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind legislation, but in the past, states calculated the rates using different methods.
Now, the U.S. Department of Education is requiring all states to report the "four-year graduation rate" which measures the percent of students who complete high school in four years.
Students who take longer to graduate or complete a GED aren't counted with their cohort group, and so the district doesn't "get credit" for them.
Currently, Missouri calculates the graduation rate by dividing the number of students who graduated in a given year by the number of graduates plus any dropouts from that class. So this rate would include students who took more than four years to graduate from high school.
St. Charles West High School, for example, had a 90.9 percent graduation rate under the traditional calculation with 209 graduates and 21 dropouts. (209/230=90.9%) However, under the new calculation the four year graduation rate was 85.6 percent.
Using the formula, rates at five high schools in the Fort Zumwalt School District would drop.
At Fort Zumwalt North, the new rate calculation is 86.4 percent, down from the old graduation rate of 90.5 percent. At Fort Zumwalt West, the new rate is 83.9 percent, compared to 90.7 percent; at South, the new rate is 88.2 percent, compared to 90.7 percent; and at East, the new rate is 85.3 percent, compared to the old rate of 82.8 percent.
Fort Zumwalt Hope High, which works with students with special needs, would see its rate go from 82.8 percent to 46 percent.
“The concern is the public perception," said Bernard DuBray, superintendent of the Fort Zumwalt School District. “The way it calculates graduation drops just about everybody. Ours dropped from about 89 percent to about 84 or 83 percent.”
The numbers take some understanding and may initially prompt parents to ask if school districts are doing a good job in graduating students, he said.
The four-year graduation rate for Missouri was 79.8 percent in the 2010-11 school year under the new calculation method.
Moving to a uniform calculation method allows states to be compared to one another more easily.
“It does put us on the same calculation route as the rest of the country, so it gives bit more of a level playing field,” DuBray said.
In a press release, the U.S. Department of Education calls the new calculation rate "more accurate" because it accounts for students who drop out or don't graduate in four years.
Grant-Engle, however, suggested that the new rate is not a "correction" of the old rate, adding that it's not appropriate to compare the two numbers. For now, the state intends to publish both rates.
"I believe they are just two different rates," she said. "There are many students that it's appropriate for them to take longer than four years to graduate. I do think (the new rate) is an important rate because it allows us to compare to other states accurately."
The new calculation may help state and district leaders understand characteristics of students who may take longer than four years to graduate.
"It's another way to look at students and see if there is anything we need to provide them to help them graduate in four years," Grant-Engle said.
DuBray said the numbers particularly for Hope High School do show that students with special needs often take more than four years to graduate. It’s something that more and more parents of students with learning issues or with special needs are going along with, he said.
DuBray said the new graduation rate calculation also may require the state to adjust its own assessment of school districts.
Fourteen academic performance standards that are the basis of the state’s accreditation program for all school districts. The standards are based on scores from the state-mandated MAP tests, high school end-of-course exams, ACT scores, and other measures.
One of the 14 is graduation rate and the state will have to figure the new rates into their overall assessments of school districts around the state, he said.
New "Four Year Graduation Rate" Calculation:
(Graduates / Total number of students in 9th Grade Cohort Group including transfers in, excluding transfers out) x 100
(Graduates / (9-12 Cohort Dropouts + Graduates)) x 100