The Idaho State Department of Education reports that high school graduation rates continue to increase for the Blaine County School District. However, the independent Editorial Projects in Education Research Center reports a different story. Express graphic by Kristen Kaiser
The issue of high school graduation rates was raised earlier this month when the Blaine County School District board of trustees voted unanimously to extend the contract of Superintendent Lonnie Barber to July 1, 2016.
The most current statistics available from the Idaho State Department of Education show that in 2011, the district had a graduation rate of 95.4 percent. However, critics of the School District and of Barber’s contract extension claim the real number is far lower and cite data from the independent nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, based in Bethesda, Md.
The center’s most recent data is for 2009. In that year, it reported that the School District had a graduation rate of 72.3 percent. The State Department of Education, however, reported that for 2009 the district had a graduation rate of 94.2 percent.
Further discrepancy can be found in comparing graduation rate trends.
The Education Research Center reports that from 1999 through 2009, the district’s graduation rate declined by 15.2 percent. The State Department of Education, however, reports that from 1999 to 2009, the district’s graduation rate increased by 26.58 percent.
The differences can be explained by the way graduation rates are calculated.
Currently, the State Department of Education methodology used by Idaho school districts compares the number of students that begin in the ninth grade to the number in the same graduating class that complete the 12th grade with a diploma. The methodology does not take into account new students who enter the district—replacing those who dropped out of school—or those who move out. The fact that enrollment was steadily increasing in the Blaine County School District from 1999 to 2009 enabled the State Department of Education graduation rates for the county to be higher than those reported by the Education Research Center.
The Education Research Center uses a methodology now mandated by the U.S. Department of Education. Referred to as “cohort” methodology, the system adjusts student population from one high school year to the next, adding the number of students moving into a district and subtracting those who leave. The method results in a steadily declining percentage, and is intended to produce a tally on graduation day that records the number of students who stayed in school minus those who actually dropped out.
While most states in the U.S. are already using the cohort method, Idaho was granted a three-year waiver by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 to continue using the older method. However, that extension ends soon and Idaho will be required to calculate graduation rates by the cohort method at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.
“We do expect the graduation rate will be somewhat lower when we go to the new rating system, but we’re not sure where it will be,” said Melissa McGrath, public information officer for the state department of education.
McGrath explained that the waiver was granted because the State Department of Education was in the process in 2010 of developing a new “longitudinal data system” that will independently track the progress of each high school. She said the department does not now have a way to verify graduation rate information submitted by individual school districts.
She said the longitudinal system will be in place for the coming school year, coinciding with expiration of the U.S. Department of Education’s waiver and requiring calculations by the cohort methodology.
“It will be more accurate because we will be able to track every student’s progress if they stay in the state of Idaho,” McGrath said.
How does district compare?
Information from both the Idaho State Department of Education and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center show that the Blaine County School District graduation rate has been higher than the state average.
For 2011, the State Department of Education reported the state average at 93 percent, compared to 95.4 percent for the Blaine County School District.
For 2009, the Education Research Center reported a state graduation rate of 72.1 percent, compared to 72.3 percent for the district. But the Education Research Center also reported that Blaine County’s 2009 graduation rate was below the national rate of 73.4 percent.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org