Kentucky’s Effective High School Graduation Rate

In his farewell interview with the Kentucky School Boards Association, now-departed Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday touted the increase in college readiness in Kentucky as his shining achievement, saying:

“To this day, we’ve gone from 34 percent being college ready to this year when we will exceed 67 percent.”

That got me thinking about something involving the commissioner’s rather questionable college and career ready rates. It is an issue that I have mentioned before.

  • Even using the commissioner’s undoubtedly inflated readiness statistics, an astonishing proportion of our graduating students are not getting an adequate education.
  • Even using the commissioner’s published statistics for 2014, nearly half the students who should have been in the Kentucky high school Class of 2014 either didn’t graduate at all or only got a hollow diploma that does not indicate they are ready for college or careers.

Hang with me and I’ll explain the “Effective High School Graduation Rate” — a new statistic I’ve developed — which shows our public school system is handing out too many hollow diplomas while an astonishingly high percentage of each entering group of ninth-grade students won’t leave high school with real readiness for either college or a career.

How to determine Kentucky’s EFFECTIVE High School Graduation Rate

When you combine the commissioner’s college and career ready rates with the high school graduation rates in Kentucky, you can determine how many entering ninth-grade students are exiting school four years later with a really meaningful high school diploma, an “Effective High School Graduation Rate.”

Here is how this works:

We’ll consider an example using the data for the Kentucky high-school graduates of 2014. These students entered the ninth grade in the 2010-11 school year.

The Statewide Kentucky School Report Card for 2014 (get that from menus here) officially reports under the “Delivery Targets” — “Graduation Rate” tabs that this class had a 4-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate of 87.5 percent. Basically, 87.5 students out of every 100 entering ninth-grade students in 2010-11 graduated on time.

The same report card shows under the “Delivery Targets” — “CCR” tab that only 62.5 percent of those 2014 high school graduates were officially considered college and/or career ready. That means only 54.7 students from the entering ninth-grade class of 2010-11 came out of school four years later with a successful, college and/or career ready education.

Thus, Kentucky’s high school class of 2014 had an Effective High School Graduation Rate of only 54.7 percent. That’s all! Sadly, 45.3 percent of the ninth-graders that made up this class upon entry into high school during 2010-11 either didn’t graduate on time with a meaningful education, or they didn’t graduate at all. This equates to tens of thousands of students from this class who didn’t get the education they needed.

The table below summarizes the official high school graduation data from the Kentucky Department of Education for the classes of 2013 and 2014. I used the 67-percent figure that Commissioner Holliday leaked in his Kentucky School Boards Association interview with a projected estimate of the 2015 4-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate to add an estimate of what the class of 2015’s Effective High School Graduation Rate might look like.

Kentucky's Effective High School Graduation Rate Projected to 2015

As you can see, I project a further increase in the Effective High School Graduation Rate, but the numbers we are talking about are all phenomenally low.

Even worse, other factors might make the 2015 estimate and the listed Effective High School Graduation Rates for 2013 and 2014 all too high.

Is the real Effective High School Graduation Rate even lower?

There is serious question about whether the Kentucky Department of Education’s reported College and/or Career Readiness Rates are inflated. Major reasons for those concerns can be found in a Kentucky Office of Education Accountability report that came out in December 2014. As I have discussed before, this report provides strong evidence that a notable proportion of students being declared college-ready in Kentucky are not doing well when they actually enter college.

For example, the OEA report shows a total of 11,532 students were only considered college-ready for mathematics based on results from tests other than the ACT college entrance test. However, among the students who only qualified as college-ready for math using those other tests – the KYOTE test and the COMPASS test – 46 percent posted grade point averages below 2.0 in their freshman year at college. Combine those numbers together and it looks like at least 5,300 graduates that Commissioner Holliday declared college-ready in his 2013 statistics very arguably were not. In fact, since students also need to be ready in English and reading to fully qualify as college-ready, the real number of those actually not prepared for college is probably even higher.

Doing a little rough estimating, if we subtract 5,300 graduates from the total of 23,756 students who were declared college and career ready in 2013, instead of a college and/or career ready rate of 54.1 percent, the rate would only be 38.6 percent. In turn, the 2013 Effective High School Graduation Rate would drop from 46.6 percent to only 33.2 percent. This estimate is far from perfect, but it gives you a ballpark idea of how the numbers might shift downward if we tightened up the KYOTE and COMPASS tests to insure unprepared students did not sneak through.

In any event, even using the commissioner’s own inflated numbers, an Effective High School Graduation Rate less than 60 percent after 25 years of very expensive education reform efforts in Kentucky provides ample evidence that there’s no reason for celebration here. Kentucky has some very serious educational problems that were not nearly well-enough addressed during Dr. Holliday’s tenure at the helm.

Public education in this state simply isn’t moving far enough, fast enough, and that is why I remain a strong supporter of new alternatives such as school choice as a way to create more stimulus for improvement. We cannot live with an education system that serves less than three out of five students adequately, and we must demand better.