US Dept. of Education’s ‘take’ on Kentucky’s high school graduation rates

As First Lady Jane Beshear gets ready to kick off her forum on Kentucky’s endemic problems with high school graduation rates, I thought everyone might benefit from seeing Kentucky’s numbers using a well-researched high school graduation rate formula created several years ago by the US Department of Education.

This formula is known as the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, or AFGR. It was extensively researched along with a number of other formulas by national dropout and graduation rate statisticians after passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 focused new attention on the nationwide problem of high school dropouts.

That federally sponsored research showed the AFGR returned the most accurate information when it was tested with two states where high quality student tracking systems provided really accurate comparison data (Note: Kentucky lags in this area and is at least four years away from getting the first high quality graduation rate information from its still teething “Infinite Campus” student data system).

This graph summarizes the AFGR for Kentucky as published in several different issues of the annually released “Digest of Education Statistics.”


Notice that Kentucky hit a peak in high school graduations in the 1993-94 school year, shortly after KERA was enacted. Most of those graduates spent the majority of their school years in classrooms that saw little, if any, impact from the reform, which focused in the early years on the lower grades.

Also note that as of the latest available data, Kentucky has yet to return to that peak performance in 1993-94. While there has been a notable improvement in graduation rates since the 2001-02 school year, we still have a long way to go. As of 2005-06, the US Department of Education’s most accurate high school graduation rate formula shows Kentucky still was losing nearly one in four students.

Looking at the graph, it isn’t hard to understand why Kentucky educators held off adopting the quality AFGR formula for Kentucky. Kentucky’s official graduation rate statistics are based on another formula that was also examined by the US Department of Education. That formula was found to return the most inflated figures of any formula the research team examined, sometimes running as much as 10 percentage points too high.

The Kentucky Department of Education’s “Briefing Packet” for 2008 nonacademic data shows the state’s 2006 high school graduation rate was 83.26 percent. Compare that to the 77.2 percent figure the US Department of Education calculated with the AFGR formula. The six-point difference amounts to around 3,000 more dropouts than our educators want to admit left Kentucky high schools without a diploma in 2006.

Kentucky’s current graduation rate formula was also audited by the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts and found to have significant errors.

Wouldn’t it be nice for our educators to move to the AFGR formula now? Maybe then we would get a better idea of exactly how bad our high school dropout situation really is. I hope Kentucky’s First Lady will join us in calling for that change when our next round of graduation rates is released next summer.

You can read more about graduation rates in general and AFGR’s in the FreedomKentucky Wiki.

You can access “Digest of Education Statistics” issues and individual tables here.

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