One provision in HB 176 is causing a huge amount of turmoil – it’s the standard that says a high school isn’t considered a “Persistently Low-Achieving School” if its graduation rate exceeds a ridiculously low standard of just 60 percent.
Proponents of the bill correctly point out that the number “60” is actually contained in the US Department of Education’s final rules for the Race to the Top fund. But, they are not paying attention to the full description of this provision.
The final Race to the Top (RTTT) rules say in several places such as on pages 59766 and 59767 in the November 18, 2009 Federal Register that a “Persistently Lowest-Achieving School,”
“Is a high school that has had a graduation rate as defined in 34 CFR 200.19(b) that is less than 60 percent over a number of years.”
That reference to 34 CFR 200.19(b) is what HB 176 proponents are conveniently ignoring. The referenced federal regulation defines what is now called the “Cohort Graduation Rate” formula. The 60% figure was intended to be used with that formula.
Now, here’s the rub. Kentucky cannot compute a graduation rate that complies with 34 CFR 200.19(b) until it has a high quality student tracking system in place for four years. As we have abundantly commented before, Kentucky’s Infinite Campus student tracking system is way behind the schedule anticipated by the federal government. We won’t be able to report the first Cohort Graduation Rate data that complies with 34 CFR 200.19(b) until 2014.
Thus, Kentucky cannot currently comply with the RTTT guidance on graduation rates.
What to do?
We do have a US Department of Education exemption from compliance with the Cohort rate for No Child Left Behind purposes until 2014. However, that means we have to use another graduation rate formula for our RTTT threshold. That formula is not harmonized with the 60 percent figure in the RTTT final guidance package.
So, I think those who say the 60 percent figure is a federal requirement that Kentucky can’t increase overlook the fact that we can’t comply with the full definition of that federal requirement in any event.
We need to choose something else in our RTTT package that will give comparable performance with our existing data. Otherwise, we will look like we are trying to game the system.
Considering the stakes, and the fierce competition, and the fact that we are already hobbled in RTTT if we don’t implement charter schools, we don’t need that extra baggage.
Somehow, I can’t believe that our RTTT application would be downgraded if we selected a more rigorous graduation rate threshold (something higher than 60 percent) to better correspond to our current formula’s results. Actually, I would think the US Department of Education judges would be impressed that we took care of this problem, and they might even award more points as a result.
On the other hand, if we keep the 60 percent rate while we use formulas that are less accurate, and more inflated, than the high quality Cohort Rate, we run the risk of losing everything.
Besides, who really wants to go on record saying that a 60 percent high school graduation rate is just fine? I sure don’t.