The Wawascene was created by Dr. Mark Stock, former Superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation. Due to its local popularity, Dr. Stock has left the blog site to future Wawasee administrators.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Why the graduation rate is not the inverse of the dropout rate

The Indy Star leads its editorial page today with the misleading headline "These steps can lead to fewer dropouts."

It then proceeds to link the new graduation rate formula that schools are using to the implication that this new graduation rate also reveals the dropout rate.

Here is what I mean. Wawasee Schools is anticipating a public release showing their graduation rate under the new formula to be 70% or so.

Does that make the dropout rate 30%? No - but everyone will think so.

This 30% includes GED students, students who took longer than 4 years, students who moved without a forwarding address, special education students who completed 4 years of school but had handicapping conditions that prevented them getting a diploma, and even foreign exchange students without a proper document from their exchange service.

The true "dropout" rate is really around 7% - not 30%.


Anonymous said...

Does the 7% include the kids who are signing out to a GED program and may never attend? Or sign out to another school and never attend? I am curious as to what happens to these kids?

Dr. Mark J. Stock said...

No - the approximately 7% across the state are true dropouts. They quit school and completed an exit interview and have left.

These other kids you refer to are not counted as graduates but are listed in other categories.

I will do a breakdown on the stats later this week on the blog and explain it in more detail.

Anonymous said...


Superintendents throughout this state have been hiding behind this "exit interview" for over a decade, and this is one the main reasons that Indiana's previous grad rates have been so inflated. Consider that carefully, readers: Stock and his colleagues are saying that a kid is a "dropout" if and ONLY if they come in first for an interview. If they simply disappear, as MOST dropouts do, then superintendents in this state say they are not dropouts.

It is also hogwash to suggest that some kids are still in school and, therefore, should be subtracted from this equation. As part of the new state law, those kids are already factored into the grad rate. If they were originally slated as a 2006 graduate (starting 9th grade in fall 2002) but they do not complete HS with their class and they remain enrolled in the fall of 2007, then they are moved to the 2007 cohort and do not count in any way in the 2006 calculation. Conversely, a student who graduates early will be likewise moved to the cohort with whom he/she graduates.

It is also hogwash to bring the GED into this equation. We already know that the GED is NOT equivalent to a high school diploma. There is ample evidence of that! To the contrary, it is consolation prize, at best, for those students who DROP OUT and who realize their mistake. It is not a healthy, viable alternative, as superintendents like Stock are so fond of portraying it.

Meanwhile, it does seem fair to make a distinction between dropouts and those who finish four years of high school without a diploma. If they fail the GQE and that is the only reason that they don't have a diploma, then it does not seem fair to label them with the "D" word. But according to the data released yesterday by the IDOE, that accounts for only 1.8 percent of the Class of 2006.

It would be accurate to state, according to IDOE data, that 24.5% of students are not completing a high school education. Maybe some of those students did not "drop out," but they also have not achieved what they needed to in order to earn a diploma. And in the end, what is the difference?

Let's stop with the excuse making and start addressing this crisis. Superintendents like Stock should be leading that charge rather than making more and more excuses.

Dr. Mark J. Stock said...

Explaining something isn't the same as making excuses. I have said all along that more students need to complete the high school diploma.

My only point is that it is disingenous for media or other groups to imply that a 70% graduation rate must mean a dropout rate of 30%.

Assume your child is severely handicapped. Are they a dropout? The way this formula will be reported the public will assume so. Assume 25 students left over the summer and have no forwarding address. Does that automatically mean they were a dropout from your school?

I never claimed a GED was the same as a high school diploma. I only said a GED wasn't the same as a dropout.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but you did claim that only 7% of kids are true dropouts. And you base that on the old hogwash argument that the only kids who are real dropouts are the ones who come in for an "interview." As I said in the previous post, that is precisely the reason that Indiana's numbers have been inflated over the past decade.

You also made comments about kids still being in school. But those kids have already been moved to the next cohort, so you (and Lowell Rose) are double-counting those kids.

Add all this together, along with your highlight of the GED and special ed issues, and it sounds to me like you are working a lot harder to explain away the numbers than you are to address the problem. To me, that is "making excuses."

an Indiana educator said...

To "Hogwash": I beg to differ with you. The students that did not graduate in 2006 and are still in school do count against us in the current 2006 graduation rate calculation. According to Calculating Indiana's New Graduation Rate on the Indiana Department of Education's website, students that did not graduate but are still in school are not listed as a group we can subtract from the original cohort.

Anonymous said...

Okay, it does look like there is a flaw in the law. Here's what it says about changing cohorts:

(A) the sum determined under STEP TWO; and
(B) the number of retained students from earlier cohorts who became members of the cohort for whom the graduation rate is being determined.

It should be obvious in (B) that there was an intent that kids could change cohorts. That intent is a bit more clear (in other sections) with kids who graduate early. It is clear that students who stay over one year will be added to the latest cohort, but there is not corresponding language subtracting those students from their old cohort. As a result, if DOE does not consider the intent of this language, then students who move to a later cohort will be counted twice (while those who move to an ealier cohort will not be counted twice).

It is possible, I suppose, that legislators did not want schools to count the same student in different cohorts for multiple years at a time. In other words, I'm sure they did not want students to be considered seniors for years on end, as might be possible without some controls. But it does seem that the intent was to allow students to be reclassified. And if there is a concern about "perpetual senior status," then the IDOE could always insist on some minimal level of enrollment and/or attendance.

In the end, I guess I'd encourage superintendents and school districts to raise this issue with the IDOE. There does seem to be a discrepancy in the law, which could be easily corrected. In the meantime, it seems like there is ample evidence of the legislative intent on this matter -- and there are legislators who would likely help to resolve it, if there is any question about intent.

Scintillated in Seymour said...

So after all of the hand wringing in the Indianapolis Star, after all of the articles and editorials about dropout factories and a dropout crisis, we discover the following:

1. 12% of students who were expected to graduate in 2006 dropped out, as opposed to the 10% historical rate.
2. About the same number of students are either still in school, received a G.E.D., or fall into some other category other than dropout.

This is the big crisis? Granted, a 12% dropout rate is too high and schools should work to lower it. But what has really changed? Evidently the only thing that has changed is that some educational expert needs to come up with new terms and acronyms to describe the 10-12% of students who don't graduate "on time", but aren't "dropouts" either.

So the whole issue becomes one of nomenclature. Wow. Exciting stuff.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope the average reader who merely skims the papers and headlines can sort that out too.

The students who don't graduate should be addressed - especially by the students who don't want to graduate - but that doesn't necessarily rise to the level of a major societal crisis - yet.

Porky said...

Anonymous said: "It would be accurate to state, according to IDOE data, that 24.5% of students are not completing a high school education. Maybe some of those students did not "drop out," but they also have not achieved what they needed to in order to earn a diploma. And in the end what is the difference?"

What is the difference?

Is that your response to the nearly 6,000 students still in high school working toward their diploma? "Sorry, kids, but since you didn't finish on the day the system told you to, you are no different than a dropout. So no matter what happens from this day forward that's all you will ever be. You might just as well turn in your books and go home, because even though you technically are not a dropout, there isn't any difference." What a powerful motivational message to finish school and receive a diploma.

And is that your response to the nearly 1500 special needs students and their parents who struggled and sacrificed for years to see their children complete their education? That they are no different than dropouts?


RiShawn Biddle said...

As the co-author of The Star's dropout series -- and the author of the editorial mentioned above -- I challenge your assertion that there is anything misleading. If anything, any close look at the numbers -- along with understanding of the economic and educational research -- shows that there is a dropout crisis, whether you want to concede it or not.

Besides the9.300 who are either officially declared dropouts or whose whereabouts are 'unknown,' which pretty much means they likely dropped out, there are the 2,500 dropouts who gained their General Educational Development. As proven by such economists as Nobel laureate James Heckman and Stephen Cameron, a GED isn't the 'good enough diploma' that many attempt to claim it is; these are students that should have graduated from high school with a true diploma. Period.

Then there are the 5,900 students who are still in school, many of which are regular high schoolers; as pointed out by Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz, these students won't graduate without some sort of intensive remediation, which is often not offered in high schools. They will almost likely drop out.

Altogether, some 17,700 students have either already dropped out or will likely do so, right in line with the paper's estimates.

Now you may not like this paper's conclusions. That's fine. But misleading? Hardly.

just wondering said...

Okay, here's my question. If all 5,900 of the students who didn't graduate "on time" and are still in school drop out tomorrow, how will they be counted next year?

Will they be counted as still in school? Will they be counted as "other"? Will they be counted as dropouts?

I'm assuming that they can't be counted as dropouts, because Mr. Biddle is counting them as droputs this year. So what will they be next year?

still wondering said...

I am also wondering whether the 2,500 students who received a G.E.D. were already counted as dropouts at the time they actually dropped out. It doesn't appear to me that most high schools have a "G.E.D. track", so is it possible that those students have already been counted as dropouts?

Dr. Mark J. Stock said...


When I say misleading..what I mean is that most people attribute stronger emotional feelings to the word "dropout" than they do "non-graduate." True, this may be a nonsensical debate over semantics to some...but if you are the parent of a special needs student it matters and if you are a school employee that feels the brunt of the headlines over the school's "graduation" would help if people understand the difference in terms being tossed around.

In most people's unexamined belief systems the word dropout may be on an unconscious level synonymous with the word "quitter."

Equating hard working special needs kids and GED students with tremendous obstacles of one sort or another to overcome as simply being "dropouts" just seems...well misleading.

A GED is certainly not the equivalency of a high school diploma - but with America's wide open access to college and community colleges and now Ivy Tech's high school diploma programs this student hasn't had the door slammed shut in their face and isn't neccessarily a quitter or a dropout.

12:44 said...

It is interesting that Mr. Biddle referenced Robert Balfanz at John's Hopkins. In an article dated July 12, 2006 from Education Week, he and Nettie Legters make the following comments.

"We have learned that 15% of the nation's high schools produce close to half it's dropouts. These 2000 schools are the nation's dropout factories."

"About half of these schools are in cities; the other half are primarily found throughout the South and Southwest. Whether the national graduation rate has gotten better, worse, or remained static over the last decade is unclear to us. What we do know is that the number of high schools with weak promoting power has nearly doubled in the last decade."

We have also learned that poverty is the fundamental driver of low graduation rates. There is a near perfect linear relationship between a high school's poverty level and its tendency to lose large numbers of students between ninth and twelfth grades. In the states we have looked at in depth, minorities are promoted to the 12th grade at the same or greater rates as white youth when they attend middle class or affluent high schools in which few students live in poverty.

Relatively few minorities attend these high schools, however. Nearly half of the nation's African American and Latino students attend high schools with high poverty and low graduation rates. This is social dynamite because in modern America a good education is the only reliable path out of poverty. The fact that most of these high-poverty, high-minority high schools, do not receive Title 1 funding, the federal program designed to help offset the impact of poverty, is outrageous."

"Our direct experience working to improve more than 70 high-poverty, non-selective high schools through our Talent Development High Schools program further tells us that the nation's dropout factories are not the result of students teachers and administrators who do not care or try. They care and try a lot, but the are often over-matched by the immense educational challenges they face."

I apologize for the lengthy post, but I thought it might be instructive to see what the researchers themselves are saying.

Dr. Mark J. Stock said...

Thank you for posting - some good points there.

David Berliner, in a lengthy white paper, calls this "poverty issue" the 800 lb gorilla sitting in the living room. Everyone ignores the topic, afraid to discuss the real issues. While poverty ends up being the correlating factor in the research - common sense will tell you it is the social dysfunction that precedes poverty that is the cause. When students grow up without hope or good role models - they model the dysfunction they see - so they remain poor and raise other poor kids.

It isn't poverty in the strict sense. Some of the poorest parents live up here in Amish country in school districts with the highest test scores around.

But as a "central tendency" in the research - poverty is the main correlating factor.

1:52 said...

Mr. Biddle evidently seems upset that he would be accused of misleading his readers. He wants to focus on the numbers, which indeed may be misleading. I guess we will have to wait and see if anyone addresses "just wondering's" and "still wondering's" concerns.

However, those issues aside, I believe it is misleading for Mr. Biddle to flat out ignore the 800 lb. gorilla, as Dr. Stock pointed out. If you look at Mr. Biddle's suggestions to reverse the "crisis" not one of the five deal with the one factor that, again, according to Balfanz, " a near perfect linear relationship" with the tendency to lose large numbers of students between ninth and twelfth grades.

It is my opinion that Mr. Biddle is fully aware of this relationship, because a couple of his suggestions are almost direct quotes from Balfanz.

For Mr. Biddle to be aware of the effects of poverty and to not mention them in his editorial misleads people to believe that the single answer to the "crisis" is found in the schools. In fact, while schools can and must play a critical role, the effects of poverty must be addressed if long term solutions are to be reached. Schools are simply not equipped to address that issue.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher in "Amish" country ( the poverty rate is not high because of our Amish population). Yes, we have very poor kids in our district and yes, we have awesome test scores. Our school district makes a concerted effort to address the issue of poverty and how it effects education. I take offense that you correlate poverty with social dysfunction. Many poor families have strong family values. They may not be your values Dr. Stock, but they are values. When these families feel that the school doesn't see the strengths they have they turn away from the schools. One of the factors of the dropout rate.

All of our teachers are offered time out of our classroom to study Ruby Payne, one of nations experts on this subject. In this training we learn to value each family's strength. We acknowledge that different groups have different values and that doesn't make them right or wrong.

We would never have PTO meetings during daytime hours, thus creating a divide between working and nonworking parents. We try to create a welcoming atmosphere for all parents. I am not trying to say we are perfect. Of course, there are still teachers that talk about families and refuse to make time to meet with parents in the evening, but we are working on it.

Of course, the elementary with the highest poverty rate in our district also had one of the most dynamic principals I have ever had the honor to meet. She has recently become our curriculum director.

We also, follow best practices based on current research. This helps all of our children succeed on state tests. We use guided reading groups based on each child's instructional level rather than a one size fits all reading book. We have writer's workshop each day starting in kindergarten. We try to motivate children internally to read (we do not use AR) We do hands on equations beginning in 2nd grade(this prepares our kids for algebra). We encourage higher level thinking. We individualize instruction and rely on our teachers to do this. All of our elementary teachers are trained in Math Their Way, Hands on Equations,Fraction Island, etc. We do not use computer programs such as AM and AR.

At our opening breakfast this year we were urged to be creative. We were told that the administration trusted us and hired us for a reason. We were asked to use our own personal strengths. All of these things lead to high test scores.

RiShawn Biddle said...

Actually I am aware of the argument about the correlation between poverty and school performance. The problem is that there is a difference between correlation and causation. Just because there is a relationship between poverty and dropouts doesn't mean that the former is the cause of the latter. Besides, the relationship is far less apparent than you think, especially in light of other factors.

If anything, the problem has less to do with poverty per se or even with the lack of Title I funding than with other matters. One is teacher quality. As The Star Editorial Board showed in an editorial on teacher quality last September, poor-performing schools -- which are often populated by poor children -- sare allocated less-experienced teachers than high-performing (and often wealthier) schools, even within the same district.

But the poverty relationship is not nearly as connected as it seems. A key reason why poorer schools get less experienced teachers is because of the nature of collective bargaining agreements and how teachers are paid: Since experienced teachers aren't getting compensated through incentive pay for working with children in those poorer schools, they are rewarded in their choice of working conditions based on seniority. The nature of how labor is handled in schools simply means that rookie teachers make their mistakes, as Kevin Carey of the Education Trust would say, on students in poor-performing schools (which they can get in quite easily), then end up in cushier gigs in high-performing (and wealthier) schools.

That problem can simply be rectified by offering incentive pay for top experienced teachers to work in poor-performing schools and children with major achievement gaps. But collective bargaining agreements, opposition to merit pay systems by teacher unions, and with poor management by school officials at the central administrative level (since principals have difficulty picking and choosing their faculties) means that the status quo remains.

Meanwhile there isn't always a correlation between poverty and poor-performing schools. The research that The Star Editorial Board has done on the 19 worst-performing schools in the state based on promoting power -- as identified by Balfanz -- notes that the schools have varying arrays of economic dependence. Connersville High, for example, has a 68-percent paid lunch population while Mishawaka High has a 61-percent paid lunch population. One may argue that there is a stigma towards admitting poverty in rural communities -- as in the case of Connersville -- but there is also the factor of low educational expectations, which is influenced by both schools, families and community expectations.

The school's role in setting expectations is seen not only in standards and their application, but in the kind of programs that are allocated within schools and the social promotion policies that send children from one grade to another despite their poor performance. Those are just two examples. This isn't saying that parents and the community doesn't play a part, but that the role played by schools is in relative terms, easily fixable because of the nature of its funding and the fact that its activities can be influenced more easily through public policy. More importantly, it's also because schools have failed to adapt to today's realities.

The reality is that schools play a major role in stemming poverty in the long run. To simply exclude schools and how they are managed, the unwillingness to incorporate two decades of research into student learning styles and a gatekeeper mentality among teachers and guidance counselors that arbitrarily places students into different academic -- and ultimately career -- tracks, is to simply be willfully and shamelessly ignorant.

As Balfanz noted in an interview with yours truly last year -- unlike you, I've spoken with Balfanz because his work has informed the dropout series done last year by this paper -- students spend less time with their parents and more time with teachers and others in the schoolhouse as they get older. By the time they turn 18, parents aren't necessarily the strongest influences in their lives.

There is no whining here; merely a defense of the position this paper has taken. And apparently, by the fact that unlike yours truly, only the proprietor of this blog is willing to use his own name in response to my counter is a sign that perhaps that this paper has hit the nail on the head so often that you wish to ignore the hammer hitting. Sorry, but we're not stopping. The lives of too many young men and women are at stake

Bill Lantz said...

To "Amish" country teacher. Where is your school and corporation located? I would love to come see some of the things that you do.

Anonymous said...

Bill Lantz,
Our school corporation is Middlebury Community Schools. The specific elementary is York Elementary which is located near the Michigan line. Please contact us, we would love to share with you. Contact our administration.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if certain parents were more diligent about their parenting responsibilities and were better role models for their children, the dropout rate would cease being a problem. What happens in the home is the most important factor in a child receiving a good education.