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Graduation Rates in Focus

A bunch of the reporting and reaction to Rep. George Miller's NCLB speech focused on his statement about graduation rates, making a big deal that this measure would be an addition to the law's accountability system.

But graduation rates currently are an ingredient in determining adequate yearly progress in high schools. The problem is that states have set their goals so low that the graduation rates almost don't matter, the Education Trust says in a report out today.

In its analysis, the Ed Trust found that states' goals are "far too low" to have any impact. It also suggests that states don't publish graduation rates or set graduation rate goals for all demographic subgroups—the way NCLB does for test scores.

In a conference call discussing the report, Ed Trust's Ross Wiener said the group is endorsing the Every Student Counts Act (H.R. 2955). The bill—sponsored by Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Va.—would do much of what Ed Trust detailed in its recommendations for reauthorization. It would set a goal that 90 percent of all students would graduate within four years of entering high school and would require high schools to make sustained progress toward meeting those goals. It also would hold schools accountable for making progress among all economic, ethnic, and demographic groups.

The Ed Trust also highlights Massachusetts. Although the state has set a low goal for its graduation rate (55 percent), it is publishing data for subgroups of students.

While Ed Trust's report deals with the data, it doesn't address the pressure on principals to award diplomas to students who may not deserve them. See Samuel G. Freedman's column in today's New York Times for the story about one such case. You'll learn that one woman thinks her daughter deserves to graduate because the girl couldn't afford to attend the senior prom for a third time.

New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, who participated in the conference call releasing the Ed Trust report, said that principals granted such leniency before graduation rates became a part of educational accountability. He also pointed out that principals are not capable of waiving the state's requirement that students pass five state Regents exams to earn a diploma.
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