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Lee County school district graduation rates improve

By Staff | Nov 22, 2008

This week the Florida Department of Education released the 2007-2008 graduation rates for the School District of Lee County. The four-year graduation rate increased 6.1 percent from last year, district officials reported.

School districts use a formula to determine four-year graduation rates by calculating each school’s cohort, or number of students, and dividing it by the number of diploma recipients.

The percentage of ninth graders who finished school in four years was 77.8 percent in Lee County, higher than the state, whose graduation rate was 75.4 percent.

Lee County also saw an improvement in its high school dropout rates from from 2.4 to 1.8 percent. The dropout rate is determined by dividing the students who gave a reason for withdrawal by the school’s total enrollment.

School district officials said they are proud of the continual improvement in the district.

“Once again, I am elated at the progress we are making in increasing our graduation rate and reducing our dropout rate,” said Superintendent James Browder. “All the credit goes to our teachers, students and school staffs — they have worked hard and it’s clear we are on the right path.”

School Board Member Robert Chilmonik said these are tremendous gains for the students of Lee County.

“It was great news, we finally have a better graduation rate than the state, that is attributed to hard work of our teachers and students,” said Chilmonik. “It shows you what hard work can do.”

No Child Left Behind was designed to improve student performance, but doesn’t include graduation requirements. For the last decade the issue of graduation has received much attention, especially after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Palm Beach County School District for its poor graduation rate.

While Lee County is performing much higher than counties such as Palm Beach — which only graduated one-out-of-three African American males, according to reports — some experts question the formula and methodology used by the state to determine graduation rates.

And while the school district has made improvements, some question if the graduation rate is as high as reported this week.

A 2006 report from Dr. Sherman Dorn from the University of South Florida stated that while Florida’s method is much better than other graduation measures, it fails to ensure accuracy in reporting student movement and inflates graduation rates.

In his report, Dorn states that the FDOE has shown substantial increases in graduation rates from 1999 to 2005 from 60.2 to 71.9 percent, but the numbers aren’t consistent with other groups. The inflation occurs, according to his report, because school districts include students who leave to pursue a GED or adult education diploma in their calculations.

“Estimates of adjusted graduation rates suggest that these two errors inflate the graduation rate by at least 9 to 10 percent,” he wrote in the report.

On Nov. 3 the school district reported a spike in the number of residents pursuing a GED.

From last school year until now the number of GED enrollees increased from 1,458 to 1,782 with a majority of students over the age of 20 enrolling. According to the FDOE calculation method, some of these students could be counted in the district’s graduation rate.

Furthermore, Dorn reported that the inaccurate reporting of students also causes inflation, because there is no regulation preventing exiting students from not being counted. He added that the inaccuracy is not intentional, instead it is a problem that exists in states across the country.

According to a statement from the FDOE to Dorn, there is no evidence to suggest that there has been any intentional mis-reporting and that penalties for such an infraction are substantial.

“You suggest that GED-based diploma recipients should be counted as non-graduates in Florida’s graduation rate calculation,” said a representative from FDOE. “Florida law stipulates that all high school equivalency diplomas shall have equal status with other high school diplomas for all state purposes, including admission to any state university or community college.”

State officials also lauded the graduation results, especially for African American and Hispanic students who showed substantial increases in graduation rates from 3.8 to 3.1 percent.

“I am so proud of our schools, teachers, and students for this tremendous achievement,” said Gov. Charlie Crist in a prepared statement. “By giving our high school students a complete education, we are giving them the foundation they need for a successful future. Their success will make Florida’s workforce and economy stronger.”