Two reports released Thursday give disappointing figures in two key categories in Connecticut education: the number of students dropping out of high school, and the number of high school graduates who go on to college.
And, the reports are accurate — unlike those released for years that were accused of being based on “funny math.”
The State Department of Education, using a more reliable accounting system than in the past, reported that 80 percent of students in public high schools are graduating on time. For years, the department reported that figure at more than 90 percent.
Translation: 4,000 more students who didn’t actually graduate and weren’t previously counted as dropping out were added to the rolls.
“We can and must do better,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor wrote in a statement when releasing the new figures.
“States across the nation, as well as Connecticut, were not wanting to admit just how many students were dropping out. You cooked the books to boost your rates,” said Patrick Riccards, executive director of ConnCAN, a New Haven-based education reform group. Earlier this year, his group called the state out in a report for using “funny math” by reporting thousands of students graduating who did not.
Previous graduation rates often included those that earned a GED or a certificate of attendance. It didn’t define a student as a dropout if he or she had stopped showing up for school, but were still enrolled. And if a student transferred to another district, the state or district didn’t count or track if they graduated.
Six years ago, state officials promised to follow the lead of other states and also begin to accurately count just how many students weren’t finishing school. This is the first year the State Department of Education has released a detailed, school-by-school, district-by-district analysis of actual dropout rates.
“You wake up and our graduation rates all of a sudden drop 10 to 12 percent pretty much overnight,” Riccards said.
Forty-five states promised to make the same move by this year, according to the National Governor’s Association, which helped lead this effort. A U.S. Department of Education regulation also spurred the change.
As expected, the achievement gap that exists between low-income and minority and white students is also prevalent in the dropout and graduation rates. Sixty-three percent of low-income students graduated compared to 69 percent of black students and 89 percent of white students.
College numbers also updated
Similar sketchy accounting was taking place when reporting how many students head off to college each year. The state used to rely on a survey that graduates filled out, with 81 percent of the class of 2009 reporting they would be heading off to college.
But when the Board of Regents for High Education’s P-20 Council went to verify if the students made it to college, just 67 percent to 73 percent were found to be enrolled in college after using more than just intent-to-enroll surveys, according to its report, also released Thursday.
“This data enables us to drill down and see where we need to do more to prepare out students for a college degree or a trade,” said Robert Kennedy, president of the 100,000-student Board of Regents of High Education system.