Nevada promotion policy skews grad figures
July 1, 2010
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – While Nevada’s graduation rate was ranked dead last by a national education publication, Douglas County came in at 29th, somewhere between Rhode Island and West Virginia, using the publication’s calculations.
Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center is reporting that Nevada’s graduation rate is 51st in the nation, at 41.8 percent for the Class of 2007.
Contributing to that figure is the Clark County School District, fifth largest in the nation, with a reported graduation rate of 39.9 percent, according to Education Week. However, the state reported a 63.5 percent graduation rate for Clark County. Douglas County had an 82.8 percent graduation rate that same year.
Using Education Week’s numbers Douglas would have a 71.2 percent graduation rate. The highest scoring state, New Jersey had an 83.3 percent graduation rate.
In an official response, Nevada Superintendent of Schools Keith Rheault said Education Week’s numbers failed to account for the state’s promotion policy for freshmen or for students who transferred out of state.
“The formula is particularly punitive to Nevada because of the way the state reported the number of ninth-grade students between the years 2001 and 2009,” he said.
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In those years, freshmen who had earned less than five credits at the end of the year were not counted as sophomores.
“The result is that it appears that Nevada has, year after year, an unusually high number of ninth-grade students compared to other grades within the system.”
While put in place to make sure students taking the high school proficiency exam as sophomores had at least the minimum amount of coursework, the rule was eliminated in 2009. Implementation coincided with a 14 percent drop for Nevada’s graduation rate from 69 percent to 54.7 percent.
“Nevada sticks out like a sore thumb when using EdWeeks CPI formula,” Rheault said. “Reporting the enrollment of ninth-grade students as we did in Nevada from 2001 to 2009 had no actual effect on the number of students who actually earned a diploma.”
Education Week determined its rate by dividing the number of students in 10th grade in Fall 2007 by the number of ninth graders in the previous fall. The calculation is done for each grade in the 2006 and 2007 school years and then multiplied.
So if there were a 10 percent difference in the number of students each year that would equal a graduation rate of 65.61 percent.
In places with high population turn-over that could contribute to a lower graduation rate.
“The state calculates the graduation rate in a standard fashion,” said Brian Frazier, Douglas County Director of Assessments, Grants and Special Programs.
He said that the large number of students in Clark and Washoe counties tends to drive the statewide rate, but that the difference between the state’s and Education Week’s figures was high.
“With large numbers it is more reflective of how Clark and Washoe went, but that still doesn’t account for the tremendous difference between the two.”
Frazier said the state is going to alter how it tracks graduation rates using more of a cohort approach.
That stems from the National Governors Association effort to standardize graduation rates across the country, which was approved in 2005.
“The state governors got together to develop a means that can be used throughout the country,” he said. “The new way is a fair calculation that accounts for all the kids that are coming in and all the kids that are leaving.
According to the association’s website the new method will involve dividing the number of graduates in a class by the number of freshmen four years earlier. Students would be tracked through their careers to determine transfers in and out of the system to adjust the number.
Rheault said he welcomes the standardized graduation rate established by the governor’s association.
“The current rates reported by different states can very easily be manipulated to make the rate look better than it is,” he said.