Dropout count needs to be standardized

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We keep hearing of the statistics reporting the abhorrent dropout rate in Alaska. While I agree that any student not obtaining a basic high school education is a failure for the entire community, I must question if as many students statistically reported as "dropouts" truly are not graduating.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, the National Governors Association and the U.S. Department of Education (via the National Center for Education Statistics) have been working to create a standardized national formula by 2010. Until then, how can a state's rank be established when statistics are not evaluated using the same methodology?

Given technological abilities, I was surprised to learn that students are not individually tracked from ninth grade to graduation. Instead, the 50 states use seven different methods to report graduation rates with the "leaver rate" and the "cohort rate" as the top two.

All of the methods have a degree of error (as with all statistics), so why not stick with what is known? If a student enters ninth grade and earns a diploma, that should count as a graduation. If a student enters ninth grade in Alaska, then moves to Florida in 11th grade, that should not count as a dropout (equating to not graduating from a high school) simply because the student is no longer in Alaska.

If a student enters ninth grade and graduates a year early, that also should not count as a dropout because it doesn't fit the four-year graduation requirement in the formula. If a student drops out in 11th grade, then returns two years later to earn a diploma, that should also count as a graduation.

With the current methodology, communities with highly transient populations in Alaska could significantly skew formula results; a 2008 group of ninth-grade students may significantly vary in four years, yet statistically they may be treated as a static group.

Even if Alaska can't track individual students within all its districts, it seems the Juneau School District should be able to create an accurate picture of local graduation and true drop-out rates. Please, identify how many and which students truly are not earning a diploma; more effective solutions could be pursued with an accurate assessment of the actual problem.

Stacy Eldemar


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