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Ed. Dept. Emphasizes Graduation-Rate Accountability in Letter to States

In the face of continued criticism that the federal Education Department is allowing states to weaken graduation-rate accountability, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to states reinforcing that high school completion must be a significant part of accountability systems under No Child Left Behind Act waivers.

Duncan, in a "dear colleague" letter sent Monday to chief state school officers, emphasizes that he is not waiving the 2008 regulations that required states to calculate graduation rates in the same way and use that data as a "significant" factor in accountability.

"We believe that the state-designed accountability systems implemented under [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] flexibility will result in more-effective and meaningful accountability for all schools and students, including all subgroups of students, and will lead to more-effective interventions in schools with low graduation rates," the letter states.

With the letter, the department has included a state-by-state list of graduation-rate targets for all states that have won a waiver under the NCLB law.

But it seems that the Education Department isn't making any states change the way they are calculating or using graduation rates in their new post-NCLB accountability systems. This isn't making advocates feel any better.

Phillip Lovell, the vice president of federal advocacy for the Alliance for Excellent Education, said, "Unfortunately, the dear colleague letter doesn't do anything to fix any of the problems ...it's not significant at all."

Lovell and other folks, like Rep. George Miller, remain concerned about a host of graduation-rate issues. For example, two states are including the number of students who earn General Educational Development certificates, or GEDs, in their accountability systems. Some states allow schools to count students who take more than four or five years to graduate. And many states afford graduation rates little weight in their overall accountability systems, and don't give enough importance to how subgroups of at-risk students fare.

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