Mandan News

Wilfred Volesky: Consistency in determining graduation rate

One statistic very important to high schools that has not been calculated the same way is the school’s graduation rate. The reason for this is that there has not been a required method which high schools throughout the nation use to determine their graduation rate. Depending upon the method used one high school could have a high graduation rate when a second school using the same statistics but a different method could have a much lower graduation rate. This inconsistency in determining a school’s graduation rate has been problematic and certainly misleading to the general public.

One method commonly used to calculate graduation rate is a simple percentage formula. You take the number of seniors that registered at your high school in the beginning of the school year, any new enrollees or transfers, and divide that number into the number of seniors that actually graduated. Let’s assume at a particular high school there were 224 seniors registered at the beginning of the school year. During that year 12 students enrolled into the district and 8 students transferred to another school district. Two hundred sixteen of those students graduated. If you take the difference between the students that enrolled and those that transferred and add this to the beginning enrollment you would have 228 students that could have graduated. By dividing 216 by 228 we get a graduation rate of 94.7 percent, which is a commendable graduation rate.

The problem with this graduation rate is that all we are taking into consideration is the year the students were seniors. Students that drop out of school normally do so prior to their senior year. This formula does not take into consideration any of the students that may have dropped out of school prior to their senior year. Although simple this formula does not give a true picture of a high school’s graduation rate. Yet, it is used by high schools throughout the nation.

Because the graduation rate has been so different from one high school to another, the nation’s governors met in 2005 and recommended that all states use the cohort method to figure their high school graduation rate. The cohort method tracks all students in a particular class from ninth grade through graduation.

Let’s assume that a high school had 250 students register at their school as ninth grade students. Over four years there were 15 additional students that enrolled at the high school and 10 students transferred to another high school. Since these students transferred to another high school they are not dropouts. However, this high school did have seven students drop out during their ninth grade year, 11 students dropped out during their 10th grade year, six students dropped out during their 11th grade year and 10 students did not graduate with their senior classmates. There were 221 students that graduated. What is the graduation rate for this high school?

We first need to decide the total number of students that could have graduated. Two hundred fifty students began as freshmen, 15 additional students enrolled and 10 transferred to another school over the four year time period which means 255 students could have graduated. This high school had 24 students drop out between their ninth and 11th grades. In addition, there were 10 students that did not graduate with their peers. Using the cohort model students need to graduate within four years or they are considered the same as dropouts. This is unfortunate since we have had a number of students in Mandan that did not graduate in four years. Yet a number of these students came back for part of the fifth year and earned a diploma.

Have you determined the graduation rate? There are 255 students that could have graduated but due to dropouts of which there were 34 (7+11+6+10), there were 221 students that graduated. By dividing 221 by 255 you get a cohort graduation rate of 86.7 percent.

Personally, I believe this method takes into consideration all of the necessary data so that a school’s graduation rate is an accurate reflection of the students that graduated from their school. In the near future all schools will be required to use the cohort method to calculate their graduation rate. It clearly is time for this to occur.