New ways, new rates: ‘Non-graduates’ jump under ‘co-hort’ formula

June 2010 Posted in School

By Kristine Thomas

When Silverton High School Vice Principal Dandy Parsons reviewed Class of 2009 data, she found 21 of 302 seniors didn’t complete their education, resulting in an 87.1 percent graduation rate.

But the new official method for calculating graduation percentages – called the cohort graduation rate – released May 25 by the Oregon Department of Education, shows 70 SHS Class of 2009 students are non-graduates, equaling a 76.8 percent graduation rate.

The difference in percentages derives from the definition of what constitutes a high school education.

According to the state’s cohort graduation rate, only students who complete their education in four years with a regular diploma equal a high school graduate.

Students who receive a modified diploma, GED, adult high school diploma, alternative certificate or who take longer than four years to graduate are now considered non-graduates.

The new cohort graduation rate is a federal requirement. Its goal is to bring consistency to the way all 50 states calculate data. Oregon is a year ahead of the federal requirements by releasing its findings now.

The cohort graduation rate for John F. Kennedy High School in Mount Angel is 68.2 percent with 58 out of 85 students in the Class of 2009 graduating. The “non-graduates” are three students who received alternative certificates, three who earned GEDs, one continuing enrollment and 20 who dropped out.

For Silverton’s Class of 2009, Parson said 232 students received high school diplomas, six adult high school diplomas, seven modified diplomas, 13 alternative certificates, 19 GEDs, four continued attending school in 2009-10 and 21 dropped out.

The cohort graduation rate also differs in how it tracks students. Under the old method, graduation rates were calculated based on the number of seniors starting in September and ending in June. The cohort graduation rate tracks students starting as freshmen and ending as seniors, with adjustments made for students who transfer out of district or die.

JFK Principal Troy Stoops said the cohort graduation expectations are higher, and initial data will be lower than previous reports.

“Different data equals different results,” Stoops said.

He said for a small high school in a supportive community his goal is to achieve 100 percent kids graduating.

“What the results do not clearly say is why our students are dropping out or not completing high school,”

Stoops said. “Many factors contribute to the disturbing data, however, student apathy and lack of motivation seem to be alive and well within our classrooms. As a result, poor attendance is often associated with poor academic achievement.”

Parsons said the high school staff tries to create a plan that works for each student so he or she can be successful after high school. For some students, that means four years attending regular high school. For other students, it may mean attending alternative school and receiving a GED.

Last fall, Parsons said, a teenage boy told her he wanted to get his GED and enroll in Chemeketa Community College’s welding program. That student would have graduated this spring.

He will be counted as a non-graduate next spring when graduation rates are calculated for the Class of 2010.

“Any time we work with a student and think outside the box on how to provide him with an education it will be counted against our graduation rate,” Parsons said. “We gave that student the education he needed to do what he wanted next.”

Oregon’s four-year cohort graduation rate for 2008-9 is 66 percent.

“This new rate supports the higher standards we have set in the Oregon Diploma that all students will graduate with the skills necessary to go on to college or start a career,” Castillo said a press release. “The cohort graduation rate provides more transparency on the serious challenges in Oregon K-12 education, underscoring the urgency of our work to close the academic achievement gap.”

While Parsons agrees every child should be prepared for his or her next step after high school, she doesn’t agree all students should get there the same way.

When working with teens who are homeless, pregnant, have health ailments or are special needs students, Parson said it’s the high school’s goal to fit the right program to the student.

“Not every student fits in the four-year box,” she said. “We are really proud of how we are able to provide students with various levels of skills an education.”

Parsons said she thinks the new cohort graduation rates sends two messages – one that educators should provide an education for everyone but only within a four-year period, resulting in a high school diploma.

“When we heard about this last fall, we canceled our GED program because we were concerned about the public’s perception,” she said. “We brought it back because it’s the right thing to do even though it will bring our graduation rates down.”

While Stoops welcomes the higher expectations equaling better results, he also doesn’t believe a regular diploma is for all students.

“Under the new calculations, students who choose to earn their GED or an alternative degree are considered non-completers,” Stoops said.

“Our goal will continue to be to prepare students for college or some avenue of higher education,” he said.

“If this means that they need an alternative route to get there, we will continue to support them. We strive to have all students earn their regular diploma in four years. When faced with a student either dropping out or pursuing an alternative route, we will always choose the alternative.”

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