The Education Week report proclaims, “A new analysis of high school completion from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center finds that the national graduation rate stands at 71.7 percent for the class of 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. The highest level of graduation for the nation’s public high schools since the 1980s, this result also marks a significant turnaround following two consecutive years of declines and stagnation.” I am pretty much a “glass half full” kind of person, but this statistic means that there are 30% of American high school students who did not graduate. Sadly, historical data shows that there have always been at least 30% of high school students across the nation who do not graduate from high school (Wehlage, G. G., Rutter, R. A., Smith, G. A., Lesko, N., & Fernandez, R. R. 1989. Reducing the risk: Schools as communities of support. New York: Falmer Press.).
The U.S. has made progress in how to count high school grads or dropouts. In 2008 the Federal Department of Education mandated how high school grad rates should be counted. But it takes time for states to react and adjust their data systems. According to this 2010 report from the National Governor’s Association, 49 states have moved towards common data points.
Tom Vander Ark points out the importance of the Data Quality Campaign because if we don’t all count high school graduates in the same way, then we can’t reliably compare data from year to year. Vander Ark also expresses his frustration in not getting grad rate data more quickly. The current Ed Week report is for the class of 2008. Sadly, when education funding is reduced, so is the ability to build this robust and efficient system for reporting data such as student graduation rates. In California, this improved system may not be funded in the future because of state budget cuts.
There are so many variables in just getting the data into the “system”. In most states, districts report this data to the state department of education and then the state reports the data to the federal government. The state and federal government have to agree on the definition of a graduate or a dropout so that data can truly be compared from state to state. In California, it is good to see that the dropout and graduation data is posted for the 2008-2009 school year. Here is one report for LA Unified. However, it is a mystery when the previous year’s data is posted in the California Dataquest system. I don’t know when we will see the 2009-10 data.