On Wednesday the Kentucky Board of Education considers a final rule for actual, enforceable standards for what it takes to earn a high school diploma in Kentucky. And, while there probably will never be a perfect answer to exactly what those requirements should be, recently released assessment and accountability results for 2017-18 reinforce the very clear need to do something – now – to greatly improve the credibility of the state’s high school graduation diploma. If you want to see this compelling information, just click the “Read more” link.
Here’s a look at the new evidence that Kentucky is currently passing out far too many more or less “Hollow Diplomas” to students who are not ready for what will come next in their lives. This evidence is built around the Transition-Ready High School Graduation Rate statistic we introduced recently.
The Transition-Ready High School Graduation Rate
Kentucky currently reports two sets of official data that relate to the real quality of the state’s diplomas.
The first data set is the officially-reported 4-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate, or 4-Yr ACGR. This shows the proportion of each entering 9th grade class that gets a diploma on time after completing four years of high school. These statistics are available for each high school, each school district and for the entire state for all students and for various student subgroups.
The second officially-reported statistic is the officially-reported Transition Ready rate, or TRGR. This statistic, which is new this year, shows the percentage of high school graduates who were able to meet at least one of the following criteria in Table 1 to be considered ready for what will come next in their lives.
For 2017-18, both the 4-Yr ACGR and the Transition Ready numbers are found in one Excel Spreadsheet, “Accountability Summary Data,” in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Open House web site. The 4-Yr ACGR is found on the “Graduation” tab and the Transition Ready rate is on the “Transition Tab” in the “Transition Rate Without Bonus” column.
The Transition-Ready Graduation Rate (TRGR) is simply computed by multiplying the official 4-Yr AFGR by the official Transition Ready rate and appropriately adjusting the decimal point placement. The TRGR shows the percentage of entering ninth grade students who graduate on time after four years of high school with a good enough education to qualify under at least one of the Transition Ready criteria.
What the TRGR tells us about diploma quality control
One of the first things the TRGR tells us about high school graduation rates in Kentucky is that the variation in the award of quality diplomas varies astronomically across the state. Table 2 lists the official data required to calculate the TRGR and the actual TRGRs for the top and bottom 10 high schools in the state. This varies from a high TRGR of 95.0 percent to a truly abysmal low of only 8.5 percent.
The variation in the TRGR is far greater than the variation in the actual 4-Yr ACGR. Several schools in Table 2 posted 100 percent 4-Yr ACGRs while lowest 4-Yr ACGR was 62.7 percent for Iroquois High, shown at the bottom of the table. That is a difference of 37.3 percentage points.
But, when we look at the TRGR results, those range in Table 2 from the top number of 95.0 percent to a low for Iroquois of only 8.5 percent, an astronomical difference of 86.5 percentage points! Clearly, diploma quality control at Iroquois High is a major problem.
We learn still more when we look at the difference between each school’s 4-Yr ACGR and its TRGR, as shown in Table 3.
The highlighted column in Table 3 shows the difference between each school’s officially reported 4-Yr ACGR and its TRGR. In this case, a smaller number shows better performance and points to schools which are better at accurately awarding diplomas to students who really should be getting them.
At least for 2018, the Augusta Independent School gets the prize for perfectly matching diplomas to students who deserve them. Things start to go downhill from there pretty quickly.
Even the school with the 10th best performance in Table 3, the J. Graham Brown School in Jefferson County, already shows a 16.7 percentage point difference between its officially reported graduation rate and its TRGR. Should Brown’s graduation rate really be 100 percent, or is even this highly competitive school passing out a disturbing number of diplomas to students who cannot meet muster under even one of the 11 criteria listed in Table 1?
But, don’t forget, Brown is far from the worst performer here.
By the time we get to the bottom of Table 3, we see the Doss High School officially reporting a 4-Yr ACGR of 85.4 percent but the school’s TRGR is only 21.4 percent, creating a credibility gap of 64.1 percentage points. In simple terms, you could argue that well over half of all the diplomas Doss passed out in 2018 were actually unearned and never should have been awarded.
So, the message for Wednesday in the 2017-18 accountability data is clear. It is high time for Kentucky to get on with creating a meaningful high school diploma with adequate quality control. Until we have the courage to do that, we will only fooling ourselves – and even more importantly – our students.
Note: An Excel Spreadsheet listing the TRGR information for all Kentucky high schools is available by clicking here.