A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the US Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) provides disturbing evidence that the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) official estimates of high school graduation rates are not only inflated, but they may also be painting an inaccurate picture of the recent trends, as well.
When the new federal data is compared to the high school graduation rates reported by the Kentucky Department of Education in its 1993 to 2008 Nonacademic Data Briefing Packet the inflation in Kentucky’s rates becomes painfully obvious.
Also note that in recent years the federal estimates show Kentucky’s high school graduation rate has been decreasing while the Kentucky Department of Education is claiming it increased.
The sad truth is that, nearly 20 years after KERA’s enactment, we still don’t have accurate data on high school graduation rates in Kentucky and we are not likely to see such accurate figures before 2013.
Meanwhile, many other states now have high accuracy student tracking systems on line and are already reporting accurate high school graduation rates and dropout rates.
The fact that Kentucky continues to lag in this important data collection and reporting area, and the fact that the Kentucky Department of Education won’t even switch to a more accurate interim calculation of graduation rates until next year, raises uncomfortable questions about the quality of research on KERA’s performance and the candor of our educators in reporting that performance.
Also, the fact that many groups and agencies in Kentucky continue to quote, and even rank, the Kentucky Department of Education’s inaccurate information about graduation rates and dropout rates without ever mentioning the fact that this data was audited and found unreliable nearly four years ago raises questions about the research abilities of many groups who try to claim expertise in Kentucky education matters.
There is no question that many Kentuckians are finally waking up to the serious problems created by Kentucky’s chronically low high school graduation rates and the correspondingly large high school dropout rates.
Part of the increased attention is due to Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear’s important campaign to elevate concerns about Kentucky’s poor dropout performance, which started last year.
Since then, all sorts of groups have been writing about graduation rates in Kentucky.
Sadly, except for the Bluegrass Institute, the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts and the federal government, virtually every one of these groups cite the same, grossly inaccurate graduation rates and dropout rates that the Kentucky Department of Education has been supplying for years.
For example, last week the Independent newspaper from Ashland wrote about graduation rates from the Kentucky Youth Advocates, boasting “Boyd, Greenup schools beat Kentucky averages.”
The Independent was relying on graduation rate data supplied by Kentucky Youth Advocates. Kentucky Youth Advocates claimed Kentucky’s 2008 high school graduation rate was 84 percent, which agrees with the seriously inflated red line data in the graph above.
I did a quick calculation of the 2008 Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate for Greenup County’s high school. Unless I’m missing something, it was only 67.27 percent. That is very different from the rate the Kentucky Department of Education reported for Greenup (83.78 percent), to say the least. That is the sort of discrepancy you can find when you use the department’s inflated formula. That sort of discrepancy is why the US Department of Education no longer trusts graduation rates from the states, but instead is publishing its own Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate calculations.
Problems also surround the state’s officially claimed dropout numbers.
For example, the Kentucky School Boards Association just published its July/August edition of the Kentucky School Advocate journal.
On pages 16 and 17 you will find an article titled “Persistence to Graduation,” which bemoans the fact that 2008 dropouts in Kentucky will cost the state $4.2 billion in lost wages during their lifetime. The number of dropouts associated with those lost wage estimates – 6,472 students. Mrs. Beshear has mentioned similar numbers.
But, those highly inaccurate dropout figures were used to calculate the red line in the graph above. Clearly, the state’s dropout reports seriously under-report the true number of dropouts, which, by the way, is exactly what the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts officially reported in its 2006 audit.
Other Kentucky education groups continue to make excuses and refuse to acknowledge the existence of the audit and the research and findings and the hard numbers in the graph above, from the IES.
Still, until 2013 (or maybe even later), the best estimates we have on high school graduation rates in Kentucky are coming from the feds. Those grim numbers are shown by the blue line in the graph. Not only does this line indicate that we are still losing at least one student in four prior to high school graduation, but the trend has recently gotten worse.
That is no success story for KERA.
The high school graduation rates shown by the blue line in the graph come from Table 3 in the new federal report. The IES calculated these rates from data on fall school enrollment and graduations for each of the years listed using a very carefully researched formula known as the “Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate.”
The Kentucky rates shown by the red line come from Figure 5 in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Nonacademic Data Briefing Packet. These are calculated with a formula known to the feds for producing inflated rates (see a 2006 federal report on this which comes as two separate volumes: Volume 1 and Volume 2).
See the various reports linked from this blog article for still more details about how the various formulas are calculated.