Friday, November 24, 2006

Leonie Haimson on city grad rates

Bravo for Comptroller Thompson! He has had a very good week.

According to the NY Post, he has now written a letter to the Chancellor, pointing out how the consistent rise in the number of students discharged from our high schools calls into doubt the DOE claim of a rising graduation rate. For the class or 2005, the number of students discharged rose to an amazing 16,647 – according to the city’s own numbers.

It’s about time that public officials started speaking out about this; I have consistently pointed out the growth in the number of discharged students to everyone who would listen; for those who are interested, see my slide on this below (w/ data taken straight out of the Mayor’s management report).

Unfortunately, there has been an overly credulous attitude on the part of the media that city graduation rates have actually improved – most prominently as displayed in a NY Times article on June 30, entitled “Graduation Rate Improving, Schools Chancellor Says” in which the following phrase was included, in relation to the city’s claim of 58% graduation rate:” ...there was no dispute over the overall graduation numbers, which independent monitors of the school system said was consistent with their own analysis of graduation and dropout trends."

I’m not sure who these “independent monitors” might be. As I wrote to the Times at the time, asking for a correction, “To the contrary, three highly respected independent monitors, including the NY State Education Department, the Manhattan Institute, and Education Week have all reported graduation rates for NYC much lower than the 58% rate claimed by the NYC Department of Education. Just a few months ago, the New York State Education Department reported graduation rates in New York City of only 43.5% for the exact same cohort of students, a difference of more than 15%. ” (Contrary to their supposed official policy, I never even received a response from the Times.)

Unfortunately, the actual trend in the NYC graduation rate is impossible to determine, given the illegitimate method that the city continues to use; and the state’s improved method was instituted for the first time with the class of 2005.

Moreover, nowhere in the DOE graduation reports does the city even claim that all those students discharged from the system actually ever transferred to other regular high schools, as the below article implies; the discharge category also includes all students sent to alternative schools and GED programs, few if any who graduate with a high school diploma.

The actual disclaimer used by DOE in its graduation reports, most recently for the 16,647 students reported discharged from the 2001 cohort of entering HS students, is the following: “*Number of students discharged, primarily to other school systems, during the indicated school year.”, p.4)

The city offers no data as to how many of these students did transfer to other “schools systems”, what kind of school systems, how many were sent to GED programs, and how many ended up as dropouts.

The State Education Department, which relies on the city’s report concerning how many of these students actually transfer to other regular high schools, whether in or out of the state, without even attempting to confirm this, still comes out with figures of only 43.5% for the city’s graduation rate, rather than the 58% figure that the city reports. Which would lead one to suspect that even the 43.5% estimate may be too high.

With the help of an intern, I have prepared tables w/ comparisons of graduation rates as calculated by the city, the state, the federal govt., and independent agencies – all of which show that the city’s figures significantly inflated. If anyone would like to see them, please let me know.

What’s even worse is that the incentives will become even stronger for principals to discharge even more low-performing students in the future, given that their schools will be primarily judged on test scores and attendance, ignoring all students who are “discharged” or sent elsewhere.

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