Sunday, December 26, 2010

Star's Matthew Tully Blows Away Inflated Graduation Numbers

I was reading some old newspapers when I ran across a Matthew Tully column I had missed. I have to give credit where credit is due. In the column, Tully methodically takes apart the IPS's claim that their schools have experienced soaring graduation rates. In the column, Tully analyzed his alma matter, Manual High School:
If Manual is any guide, the new state graduation rates should be eyed with hardy skepticism. Either that, or I spent an entire school year at Manual and missed a remarkable turnaround.

The Southside school isn't alone in reporting tremendous advancement. The question is whether the improvements at so many struggling schools are as grand as portrayed. For answers, look at data the state released this week.

Relying on IPS reports, the state says Manual's graduation rate increased from 39 percent in 2008 to 44 percent in 2009 and to 60 percent this year.

Along the way, though, the number of actual four-year graduates declined -- from 142 in 2008 to 119 in 2009 and then to just 113 this year.

Two factors seem to best explain how the rates are calculated. First, there is a wide gap in the number of students enrolled as freshmen and the number who are counted as members of the freshmen class. A state official said that is because many students are classified as freshmen even though they have been in high school a previous year.

So although the Manual class of 2010 started on paper with 490 freshmen in 2006, only 360 of those students counted when the school began to calculate its graduation rate.

Second, schools work hard to compile lists of students who leave early for officially valid reasons. There's good reason for that, as each student placed on the list bumps up a school's graduation rate because it lowers the overall number of students in a class.

Some students are put on the lists because they transferred to a charter, private or different district school. But a growing number of students in recent years have been placed on the lists because they said they were being home-schooled, a claim made easier by the state's lax rules. Manual listed 172 students in the class of 2010 who left for supposedly valid reasons -- a number that has increased sharply in the past two years even as enrollment has declined.

As a result, Manual had to claim only 188 students as potential members of the class of 2010. So even a paltry graduating class of 113 resulted in a graduation rate of 60 percent. That's an astonishing number in a school where only 25 percent of students passed both math and English assessments last year.

And consider this: If you add back in only the students who reported they were being home-schooled, Manual's graduation rate drops below 50 percent. Meanwhile, of this year's 113 graduates, nearly 20 percent received a waiver, meaning they were allowed to graduate even though they failed to meet state guidelines.

To see the rest of Tully's column click here.

Tully reminds me of some of my students who are capable of an "A" if they put forth the effort, but just choose to go through the motions, perfectly content with a "C." This column highlights Tully's capabities. Tully is, as far as I know, the only media type who didn't simply accept the graduation numbers spoon fed to the media and started looking into the methodology used to arrive at the numbers. It is a shame that Tully doesn't approach all political topics like he did this one. Tully gets an "A" here.


Nicolas Martin said...

The graduation rate is meaningless at any percentage. Grades could be easily inflated to increase the grad rate, with the students still receiving a fraudulent education. The only important measure is what the students have learned, and by that measure IPS is tragically deficient.

Educationists routinely divert attention to red herrings, such as class size, student-teacher ratio, teacher salaries, and grad rates. American parents fiddle while their children's futures are burned.

Paul K. Ogden said...

NM, You're exactly right. Tully's column didn't explore that. There are a lot of ways to fudge the numbers. It's a shame the media rarely looks beyond the numbers that are spoon fed to the media.

M Theory said... in one room school houses got a better education by the 8th grade than kids do by the 12th grade under Dr. White (and he knows it).

Dr. White, nor none of the school board members, know what the graduation goal is for IPS.

Does that tell you anything?