"Rampant Dishonesty" in the Numbers

Friday, July 01, 2005

"Rampant Dishonesty" in the Numbers

The "No Child Left Behind" Act championed by the Bush administration requires state and local education officials to make public a lot more data. Generally speaking, this is a positive change. Unfortunately, the reports are only as good as the data.

As the Associated Press recently reported:
Most states are reporting lofty high school graduation rates that far exceed reality and mislead the public about how schools are performing, a private analysis found.

The majority of states -- 36 of them -- say 80 percent to 97 percent of their high school students graduate on time, according to state figures provided to the Education Department. Those numbers show "rampant dishonesty," said Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust, an advocacy organization for poor and minority students.

... A series of independent analyses shows the graduation rate across the states is closer to 70 percent, meaning almost one-third of students don't finish on time -- or at all. The nation's governors have agreed, which puts their position at odds with their own state data.

Even President Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings have said this year that only 68 of every 100 ninth-graders will graduate on time. Yet only 11 states put their graduation rate somewhere in the 60 percent or 70 percent range ...
The problem? As the AP story notes:
States are generally allowed to calculate the rates however they want, which makes comparisons across states fairly meaningless.

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