Saturday, June 21, 2008

States eye uniform graduation rate reporting

By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP, Associated Press Writer
12:45 AM PDT, June 18, 2008

SEATTLE -- Comparing graduation rates from state to state, or even school to school, can be difficult because all kinds of methods are used to determine them.

Federal officials have a solution that could make that process easier -- and more accurate -- within the next five years.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings in April proposed new rules requiring states to assign students a unique ID number to track the individual from ninth grade through graduation, or until that student drops out.

The proposal, which mirrors an agreement states made with the National Governors Association, would provide every district with a more scientific graduation rate.

Washington state assigned a unique ID to every student four years ago. The class of 2008 will be the first with a graduation rate based on the method Spellings wants mandated for all states.

State officials don't know if the new method will help or hurt Washington's steady 70 percent on-time graduation rate, said Joe Willhoft, director of assessment for the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

But the point is to come up with a true number, Willhoft said.

The federal government has offered grants to state education departments to improve their data systems, and the money may be used to pay for a system to track students by unique IDs, said U.S. Education Department spokesman Chad Colby. The government gave a total of $62.2 million to 13 states in 2007 for data systems.

New York is in the process of adopting the new approach. State officials expect the more accurate numbers will be significantly lower in some cases, because many schools used an index that didn't account for students who dropped out in ninth and 10th grades.

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