NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 27, 2005

Americans often can't find reliable information about how the schools in their state compare with schools elsewhere. The No Child Left Behind Act was supposed to change that by requiring states to file clear and accurate statistical information with the Education Department. The news so far is less than encouraging. Many states have chosen to manipulate data to provide overly optimistic appraisals of their schools' performance, says the New York Times.

A distressing example emerged last week in a study of graduation rates by the Education Trust, a nonpartisan foundation in Washington. For the second year in a row, the Education Trust has found that many states are cooking the books on graduation rates - counting them in unorthodox ways or ignoring students who drop out. Some states submitted no graduation data at all:

  • The generally accepted way to calculate graduation rates is to track students from the day they enter high school until the day they receive a regular diploma, as opposed to passing the G.E.D.
  • Under this system, students who leave without graduating are reasonably counted as nongraduates.

But many of the states are using other, deceptive techniques:

  • Some calculate the percentage of dropouts based on the number of students in a given senior class who graduate.
  • Those who left school in grades 9, 10 or 11 disappear, and the graduation rates reported by many of the states are grossly inflated.

The secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, says she is concerned about accuracy. But Congress itself needs to take up this issue and force the states to use accurate methods of calculation when it reauthorizes No Child Left Behind in 2007, says the Times.

Source: Editorial, "False Data on Student Performance," New York Times, June 27, 2005; and Daria Hall, "Getting Honest About Grad Rates: How States Play the numbers and students lose," Education Trust, June 2005.

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