Standardized Formula For Graduation Rates May Soon Pair With Tests

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 28, 2008

A Bush administration proposal to require that all states use the same formula to calculate high school graduation rates is winning applause from education experts who say it will shed light on the nation's dropout problem.

The proposed regulation is among several the administration introduced last week. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she is using regulatory power to tweak the No Child Left Behind law because efforts in Congress to overhaul it have stalled.

The 2002 law requires schools and states to report graduation rates, but states have been criticized for understating the number of students who don't receive a diploma. Under the administration's plan, most students would be expected to graduate on time after four years of high school.

Former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group seeking to improve high schools, said a uniform formula would give parents, educators and policymakers a better picture of student performance.

"Under the No Child Left Behind Act, high schools have been accountable for their test results but not whether their students actually earn diplomas," Wise said. "This is like counting how many hurdles an athlete jumps, but not recording whether he or she crosses the finish line."

The proposal, likely to take effect by year's end, would require all states by 2013 to use a formula the nation's governors endorsed in 2005. High schools, school systems and states would be required to make progress toward a state-determined graduation rate goal. The graduation rate among subsets of students -- including those in poverty, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities -- also would have to improve.

"We know it's low-income kids and kids of color who are struggling the most getting through high school," said Daria Hall, an assistant director at the Education Trust, a District-based advocate of better schools for the disadvantaged. "This is a much-needed and long-overdue step toward holding schools and systems accountable for graduating all groups of students."

No Child Left Behind aims to have all public school students proficient in reading and math by 2014. It requires schools to test students in those subjects annually in grades three to eight and once in high school.

Many educators complain that the law places too much emphasis on how students score on a single test. One proposed regulation would clarify that schools might use a combination of assessments to measure progress.

Spellings would also require states to:

·Post the performance of students on national reading and math tests alongside state test scores, which would give parents a sense of the rigor of state assessments;

·Prove that the data they use to rate school performance do not exclude too many test scores from students who belong to minority groups; and

·Ensure that plans to restructure chronically low-performing schools are sufficiently rigorous and comprehensive.

The rules would also require schools to give parents better information about a key requirement of the law: that certain children in low-performing schools be given access to government-funded tutoring or the chance to transfer to a school with better test scores. Parents of children eligible to transfer would have to be informed of that option at least two weeks before the start of the school year.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a key architect of the 2002 law, said in a statement that the changes "include important improvements for implementing No Child Left Behind, even as Congress considers further reforms to the law."

Final regulations are expected to be published in November after a public comment period.

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