Mixed results in study of Fla. graduation rate

Jul 22, 2008


Associated Press




TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A new study Tuesday commends - and criticizes - a method Florida has been using to claim it has a better high school graduation rate than shown by national statistics, which rank the state near the bottom.

The LeRoy Collins Institute, a think tank at Florida State University, sponsored the study that concluded Florida is too secretive about its method and the data it uses.

"Florida's graduation rate measure is both promising and suspicious," wrote the report's authors, Jessica Ice and Joseph Wachtel, doctoral students in political science at Florida State.

Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith disputed the report's criticism.

"Florida's graduation rate is both accurate and transparent," Smith said in a statement. "Each year the Department (of Education) publishes this rate on its Web site along with a multitude of accompanying information describing, in detail, the methodology behind the calculation."

The report praises Florida's tracking of individual students in contrast to statistical formulas used in the national comparisons. Virginia is the only other state that uses individual tracking, a method the report calls "the gold standard."

Florida's method, though, has consistently resulted in much higher graduation rates than the national studies.

The Florida Department of Education reported 72.4 percent of students graduated within four years in 2006-07. No national comparisons for that year have yet been done, but the Collins study noted Florida reported a 69 percent rate for 2003 compared to only 61 percent on a national assessment.

Florida ranked 44th among the 50 states in the most recent comparison by Education Week magazine for 2004-05 with a rate of 60.1 percent. The state figure for that year was 71.9 percent.

"The variance is troubling," said Collins Institute director Carol Weissert. "We know that Florida's definition of graduation contributes to these differences, but it is not possible to analyze the exact impact."

That's because "details of the rate computation are not readily available" and the state does not disclose how many "special diplomas" it counts, Weissert said.

The state counts students who receive high school equivalency diplomas and certificates of completion awarded to students who finish four years but fail the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. Neither are typically included in national comparisons.

The report also found Florida may have changed its method over the years, which makes annual improvements unreliable.

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