Florida has lowest grad rates in U.S. report says
Education board says data incorrect
November 20, 2002
By Zenaida A. Gonzalez
A national report released today shows Florida has slipped to last in the nation in graduation rates.
The Florida Board of Education dismissed the report, calling it outdated and inaccurate, and adding that, if anything, it proves Bush's education reforms were necessary before he took office. Others say the report is evidence of the downward spiral Florida finds itself in when it comes to education.
The Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute looked at graduation rates across the country in 2000 and did something no other organization has done before.
Researchers separated the number of students who earned a four-year high school diploma and those who earned General Education Diplomas. The GED recipients were taken out of the calculation.
The result -- Florida is 50th in graduation rates.The report's approach lowered the state's 62.3 percent graduation rate to 55 percent. Similar disparities were found in other states.
Brevard Public Schools found that of the 4,428 students who graduated this year, 3,504 earned standard diplomas, 505 earned an adult GED and the others received a range of other diplomas or certificates.
Researchers also compared the study's graduation rates to those published by the National Center of Education Statistics. The comparison between the two sets of numbers showed four states improved under the study's method, but most showed a decline.
"We think our method is more reflective of what the public thinks a graduation rate is," said Marcus Winters, an associate researcher who worked on the project. "We excluded GEDs because they distort the picture of how well schools are doing."
Bill Edmonds, a spokesman for the Florida Board of Education, disputed the report's conclusions.
"We are confident in our numbers and confident that Florida is making gains in the graduation rate -- and in no way, no fashion is Florida last in the country," he said. "That just doesn't jibe with reality."
Edmonds noted that unlike other states or the study's approach, Florida actually tracks every student who enters ninth grade to determine if they graduate four years later. The final graduation rate includes those students and those who've earned GEDs as well other complicated factors.
Manhattan researchers relied on estimates based on student populations. They didn't account for those who transferred to other schools or states, Edmonds said.
"They created fudge factors," Edmonds said. "Even if you want to treat Florida data cynically, this just isn't right. And graduation rates are a priority area for the Board of Education, so to be hammered here is especially annoying."
Legislator Mitch Needelman also has a problem with splitting GEDs from traditional diplomas.
"I don't see what the difference is," he said. "The important thing is that a child is graduating, whether its with a diploma or a GED."
But researcher Inters disagrees.
"We want to use graduation rates as a measure of our schools," he said. "GEDs are a measure of students individual merit."
Still Tallahassee officials argue GEDs don't make a big difference in Florida. According to the Department of Education, there were 3,118 adult GEDs granted in 2000 and another 159 earned other GED diplomas. That's a small percentage considering there were 118,328 graduates that year. Even if the GEDs were counted as dropouts, the graduation rate would have been 66 percent, Edmonds said.
Students can earn a variety of diplomas aside from a traditional four-year high school diploma. They range from GEDs once they've left high school, to special diplomas for special education students and completion certificates for those failing to meet all high school requirements.
Superintendent Richard DiPatri said residents are probably confused by mixing GEDs and traditional diplomas in one figure.
However, he said there are many reasons why GEDs are used and many more reasons why students leave school.
He commended Florida for actually tracking individual students. No other state has the same technique, and most states have varying definitions for graduation, which makes comparisons difficult.
"I don't believe Florida is last," DiPatri said. "The system is very complicated and unless you track individual students, I don't put a lot of faith in the numbers."
Fran Baer, the president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers, said she's not surprised by the state's poor results with or without GEDs.
"We've got a lot of work to do and I think that's the message Florida voters were sending during the election," Baer said. "We need everyone to pay attention to these statistics."
But some experts caution against using graduation rates as accountability measures.
"The reality is that schools could have graduation rates of 100 percent and still have students who can't add, subtract, read or write," said Matthew J. Brouillette, the director of education policy at the Machinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan.
Parent Kim Merchant said she always assumed the graduation rates reflected students who earned traditional diplomas. She was shocked to learn GEDs are included. The fact that the rate drops even lower when GEDs are excluded made her cringe.
"It's nothing to be proud off," she said. "We need to work hard to combat the obstacles, and I think the separation of GEDs and standard diplomas is a fair one."
©2002 Florida Today