The process of reporting high-school graduation rates will change over the next four years because of a bill passed in the Maryland House of Delegates on March 20 to make graduation rates more accurate. The bill is now in the State Senate.
Sponsored by State Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, the bill requires schools to track students individually and account for dropouts and transfers. Currently, Gutierrez believes that the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) does not account for dropouts and transfer students who do not graduate. The new system will ensure that Maryland high-school graduation rates are accurate.
The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization, completed a study in June 2004 that projected that the actual Maryland high-school graduation rate for the class of 2004 was 75.3 percent. The MSDE reported Maryland's graduation rate as 84.9 percent in 2004.
The discrepancy between the MSDE statistics and the Urban Institute's study is a result of Maryland schools' inability to track dropouts, said Gutierrez. She estimated that Montgomery County, which reported a 91.4 percent graduation rate for the class of 2005, could have inflated graduation statistics by over 10 percent. The reported graduation rate is often too high because schools assume that students who drop out enroll in other schools and graduate on time, said Gutierrez.
Graduation rates are often used as a primary tool to assess school performance, but Maryland's high-school graduation rates are unreliable, Gutierrez explained. A high graduation rate indicates that a school is proficient at educating all its students and providing opportunities to succeed. Inaccurate graduation rates can cause school funds to be misappropriated, and struggling schools that need money may be overlooked because of inflated graduation rates.
The MSDE formulates high-school graduation rates by dividing the total number of graduating students by the number of students in the senior class, including dropouts. Gutierrez's bill requires that the state use a four-year adjusted graduation rate, tracking each student through high school. "It is very strict," she said. "Students can only be taken off the rolls if they die or if the school receives adequate confirmation that the student is enrolled in another education institution. Right now, graduation rates are inaccurate — there's no system-wide accountability."
Maryland's graduation rate statistics are relatively precise, and a drastic change in the system is unnecessary, according to Maryland State Deputy Superintendent Ron Peiffer. "Maryland has never artificially inflated graduation rates," he said.
Independent of Gutierrez's bill, the MSDE plans to improve high-school graduation rates' accuracy by giving each student in Maryland a specific number, which would stay with them even if they transfer between schools in different counties.
Evidence of inaccurate graduation rates can be observed at Blair, according to ESOL resource teacher Joseph Bellino. "The codes that they use when someone is withdrawn are confusing, and there's never any follow-up," said Bellino.
Blair's graduation rate has been above 90 percent since 1998, according to the MSDE. However, the class of 2006 currently has 761 students, down from 967 when it entered high school, a retention rate of 78.7 percent. Because the MSDE does not account for dropouts who do not complete high school, said Gutierrez, many of the 206 students in the senior class who have left Blair will be considered graduates, even if they did not transfer to another school and graduate.
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