Here’s a great example of the terrible confusion and lack of the transparency in education statistics in Kentucky.
The article was originally published in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. It claims our graduation rate is now the highest ever, and it has been rising much faster than the rest of the nation.
What makes this so interesting is that at almost at the same instant the Owensboro paper printed their article, the Herald-Leader printed “State dropout rate is analyzed” which says “Kentucky has one of the highest dropout rates in the nation. Most of the dropouts are white and US-born.”
Graduation rates and dropout rates are closely related. You can’t have great performance on one without great performance on the other. So, clearly at least one of the newspapers is wrong, but I actually don’t think either paper has it right.
Using one of the better performing calculations – one even the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence uses – I think we have hovered somewhere around the middle of the pack on graduation rates for some time. I am confident the bottom of the heap allegation in the Herald-Leader isn’t correct.
But, that doesn’t let the Owensboro paper off the hook, either. The Messenger-Inquirer’s claim that our current 71.5 percent graduation rate is the highest ever for Kentucky conflicts with the facts. In the early 1990s our rate was still better at 72.7%. See page 14 in “Making it to Graduation,” by Thomas G. Mortenson, created for the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence’s 10-Year report on KERA (not on line, to my knowledge). The rate then went into a long period of decay. Only recently has it made some recovery. So, the “improvement” cited in the Messenger-Inquirer is really only a partial recovery of lost ground. We still have not returned to where we were back in the early 1990s.
So, like I said, who ya gonna trust? Even the newspapers are full of the confusion.
The real issue here is, why, almost two decades after KERA’s enactment, do our educators still fail to provide credible answers to even relatively simple but important questions about the proportion of kids we graduate? Confusion reigns because Kentucky’s educators never developed an accurate system to track the real graduation rate. If our educators can’t get even this relatively simple stuff right (a problem other states have solved, by the way), how much confidence can we place in their ability to handle the far more difficult challenge of accurately measuring academic achievement?