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Districts See Graduation Rate Increases Before State Changes Formula

Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 5:35 PM

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Calculating graduation rates can be tricky, especially in urban school districts where poverty and unstable family situations can cause students to move around frequently. On the recently released report card, Ohio introduced a new formula that shows the graduation rates of most urban districts drop. But as ideastream’s Michelle Kanu reports, even though the new formula shows their graduation rates are lower, some urban districts say they’ve still made improvements in helping students earn a diploma.

In the past, Ohio calculated graduation rates by including kids who take a fifth year to finish high school.  The new way of calculating the rate only includes kids who earn their diploma within four years. 

Ohio is among a number of states that are adopting the new method - which produces what’s known as the “on-time” rate – because of new dictates in federal law aimed at allowing better comparisons between states.  Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon says the new mandate does more accurately track students who move to other districts.

Gordon: “In this new formula, there’s an actual student id number that follows the student around the state and tries to ensure that we count more effectively.”
The downside is that the new method shows a lower graduation rate than the old in many urban districts, including Cleveland and Youngstown.

But Connie Hathorn, superintendent in Youngstown, isn’t bothered by that.  For one thing, he says, comparing the new method to the old just isn’t useful because you’re comparing apples to oranges.

And since the new rate doesn’t count in school rankings until next year, districts are still looking at their progress under the old calculation. Hathorn says that apples to apples comparison shows an increase from 58 to 67.8 percent – a significant step in Youngstown, a district that just climbed up from an F ranking to a D.  He says that’s the result of deliberate steps his district has taken, such as doing more to help kids who are struggling catch up before they get too far behind.

Hathorn: “We always had a credit recovery program where kids can stay after school and work to regain some credits, but this past year they made an effort to provide time during the course of the school day for kids to make up that work and get the credit recovery.”

In Cleveland, the graduation rate—likewise comparing apples to apples—rose under the old calculation to 62.8, up from 54 percent the previous year.  CEO Eric Gordon credits special efforts to help more students pass the Ohio Graduation Test and think about their college and career plans after high school. 

Gordon says the state’s new method of looking at graduation rates shouldn’t discount Cleveland’s improvement efforts.

Gordon: “Those kids that made gains and graduated within four years, they’re still counting in the new rate.  And so our Closing the Achievement Gap Program for example has shown tremendous gains over a three year period for African American students and boys in particular.  That’s not going to change just because we count differently.”

Closing the Achievement Gap – adopted in more than half of the district’s high schools - targets minority males at risk of dropping out and pairs them with a mentor.  The program also provides tutoring and field trips to college campuses.

Crespo: “My name is Omar Crespo, and I graduated from Rhodes High School in 2011.”

Crespo participated in the program from ninth through twelfth grade and says the intensive support he got from mentors — also called linkage coordinators — made the difference in keeping him on track to graduate.

Crespo: “My linkage coordinator, Mr. Harris, everyday he came to my house and got me up to school, took me home, and took me to work.  And just to know that I had somebody there that cared as much as I wanted to care, but I couldn’t get to it, that helped me out so much because he called me everyday, and said ‘don’t give up, don’t give up’.”

Cleveland and Youngstown Schools know they lag behind the state’s other large urban districts and still have a big hill to climb to reach the state requirement of a 90 percent graduation rate.  And that hill will look even bigger when the new calculation method becomes the official standard next year.

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