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Education Trust Denies that High-StakesTesting Pushes Kids Out of School

Report Disputes U.S. High School Graduation Rates

Barely half of all black, Hispanic and Native American students who entered U.S. high schools in 2000 will receive diplomas this year, according to a new report that challenges conventional methods of calculating graduation rates.

Of all students who entered ninth grade four years ago, only 68 percent are expected to graduate with regular diplomas this year. The rates for minorities are considerably lower -- 50 percent for blacks, 51 percent for Native Americans and 53 percent for Hispanics -- according to a measure devised by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization.

Methods of calculating graduation rates are a perpetual subject of debate, and there are many differences in the ways states and school systems report data. By any measure, though, blacks and Hispanics graduate at lower rates than whites, a situation that has long concerned educators.

"We will never dissolve the hegemony of Jim Crow segregation . . . unless we get serious about this problem," said Christopher Edley, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, which joined the Urban Institute to write "Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis."

Some states determine the graduation rate by comparing the number of 12th-graders at the beginning of the year to the number of graduates. The prevailing measure, devised by the National Center for Education Statistics, considers the number of students who graduate and the number thought to have dropped out.

Christopher Swanson, the Urban Institute research associate who devised the new method, said that many dropouts go uncounted and that his "cumulative promotion index," which considers the number of students enrolled each year and the number who receive diplomas after four years, is more authentic.

Maryland recently reported a graduation rate of 85 percent; the cumulative promotion index, however, puts the state's rate at 75 percent. Virginia's declared rate, also 85 percent, compares to a promotion index of 74 percent. By both measures, whites were significantly more likely than minorities to graduate.

The District reported a 64 percent graduation rate; the promotion index was 65 percent. A racial gap was not calculated because of the small numbers of whites.

According to the report, the national graduation rate is 72 percent for girls and 64 percent for boys.

The authors criticized the federal No Child Left Behind law for requiring that test score data but not graduation rates be broken down by race. They suggested that the law's requirement that schools meet escalating proficiency goals, as well as the proliferation of state high school exit exams, might encourage school officials to nudge out lower-performing students. Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, agreed that graduation rates are worse than is generally reported, but she opposed the notion that federal testing requirements cause students to leave.

"How can you possibly suggest that just making educators accountable for student learning makes them cheat and push students out of school?" she said.

— Linda Perlstein
Report Disputes U.S. High School Graduation Rates
Washington Post


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