More on the quality control problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas – Part 4

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, if it did nothing else, a recently released, rather disappointing report about For All Kids, How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students did focus attention on how Kentucky’s low-income students are faring. So, my Part 3 blog in this series took a look at an Algebra II versus graduation rate analysis for Kentucky’s low-income kids. Today, we examine how what the Hopkins report calls Kentucky’s “low-income” high school graduates match up to the state’s non-low-income graduates when we consider their relative readiness for college and/or careers (CCR).

Just as we saw with the Algebra II example, the CCR-based evaluation of low-income versus non-low-income graduation statistics shows on a proportionate basis that more Hollow Diplomas are being awarded to Kentucky’s poorer students.

As I had to do with the Algebra II analysis for low-income graduates, I had to algebraically calculate the performance for the comparison group, the non-low-income students. Therefore, I restrict my analysis to a statewide view only. Doing a district by district analysis, while possible, would be rather time-consuming.

Also, keep in mind we are really talking about the graduates who were eligible for the federal free and reduced cost school lunch program here. You have to dig very deeply into the Hopkins report to find out that their “low-income” graduates’ data is really based on the school lunch data. Official reports don’t list “low-income” students in the data breakouts.

Now, let’s look at some numbers. The table below compares Kentucky’s graduation rates to CCR rates for three groups of students.

Low-Income to CCR Statewide

The top row of the table shows the officially reported overall “all student” average figures for both the four-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate (ACGR) and the officially reported percentage of those graduates who met muster using the state’s officially defined CCR criteria.

In the next cell along the top row, I calculate a statistic that we at the Bluegrass Institute created. This is called the “Effective High School Graduation Rate.” For all students in Kentucky who graduated on time in 2015, it is only 58.7 percent.

To expand a bit, the Effective High School Graduation Rate shows the percentage of 9th graders who entered high school in 2011-12 who actually did graduate on time in 2015 with an education good enough for them to officially qualify as ready for either college, a career, or perhaps even both. Basically, these graduates got an effective education for what will come next in their lives. The rest only got Hollow Diplomas. They are not ready. And, there are consequences.

If these unready students try to go on to postsecondary education, they face added expenses and more time on campus, which too often results in them leaving without a diploma – but with plenty of debt.

If these unready students try to enter the workforce, they face employers who increasingly understand that diplomas may be hollow and therefore require additional testing or other steps prior to hiring. Too often, these recent graduates never even make it past the application process.

Returning to the table, notice that for “all students” in Kentucky, while the officially reported Four-Year ACGR graduation rate was 87.9 percent, the Effective High School Graduation Rate was 29.2 percentage points lower at only 58.7 percent. This tells us that out of each 100 entering ninth grade students that should have become part of the Class of 2015, only 58.7 actually left school with the minimal education required to qualify as college and/or career ready even using Kentucky’s somewhat undemanding CCR criteria.

The middle line shows similar, officially reported graduation and CCR data for the lunch-eligible students along with our calculation of the Effective Grad Rate and the difference between the official and effective rates.

The Non-Lunch-Eligible row is a bit different. Because the Kentucky Department of Education does not report statistics for this group, I had to use a little algebra to calculate the Four-Year ACGR and the CCR rates. I then continued to calculate the other items in this last row as described earlier.

Now, let’s compare the results for the lunch versus non-lunch graduates.

As we pointed out in yesterday’s blog, when we look at the officially reported ACGR rates, there isn’t much difference. The rates are only 6.1 percentage points apart. The Hopkins report cheers about that. But, are congratulations really appropriate?

When we look at Effective Grad Rates, the picture changes dramatically. While 71.1 percent of the non-lunch students got an effective education, only a rather dismal 46.9 percent of the lunch eligible grads did. That is a much larger performance spread of 24.2 percentage points. This indicates that on a proportionate basis, a lot more lunch-eligible graduates got Hollow Diplomas compared to what happened to the non-lunch grads. Let’s not cheer about that, please.

By the way, data in the Kentucky School Report Cards databases show that the entering cohort of 9th graders in 2011-12 who qualified for the school lunch program totaled 24,770 students. Based on the data above, only 46.9 percent of them graduated on time with an effective education four years later. That works out to only 11,617 of those students who got an effective education. That means among the entering lunch eligible ninth graders, 13,153, or 53.1 percent – more than half – didn’t get an effective education. Anyone what to cheer about that?

Clearly, as we have said in earlier blogs in this series, while we are prevented by student privacy laws from doing a one-to-one match of each student’s performance in Algebra II and in CCR success to whether or not they graduated on time, the approximations we can make using the publicly available data provide a disturbing picture that there is a lot of social promotion to diplomas going on in Kentucky.

Still worse, the social promotion to diplomas problem clearly is more pronounced when we examine the evidence for Kentucky’s low-income, school-lunch-eligible students.

Technical Note: The official graduation rate and CCR rate data come from the Kentucky School Report Card “Data Sets” Excel spreadsheets for “Delivery Targets – Graduation Rate (Cohort)” and “Delivery Targets – CCR” for the 2014-15 school year.