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Education officials: Fla. graduation rate sees hike

By Staff | Dec 8, 2009

The Florida Department of Education announced an increase in the state’s graduation rate Friday due in most part to a change in the calculation method, a system no longer statistically counting students with GED diplomas as high school graduates.
Lee County School District officials were pleased with the local graduation rate increasing from 76.9 percent to 77.6 percent in the 2008-09 school year under the newly adopted method.
The state also increased from 73.1 percent to 76.3 percent.
“I am thrilled and delighted with the continued progress we’re making academically,” said Lee County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Browder said in a prepared statement released Friday.
Changes in the rate calculation were adopted by the Florida Department of Education this year to align with new federal standards. The U.S. Department of Education mandated all states adopt the new system by the 2010-11 school year.
Dr. Connie Jones, the Lee County School District’s chief academic officer, said GED diplomas were eliminated from the calculus this year and eventually special diplomas will be removed as well.
Browder said he agreed that the way districts determine graduation rates should be uniform, but stressed that removing the GED degrees will not provide “the whole graduation rate picture.”
Eliminating GED and special diplomas changes the rates slightly. Under the old calculation method, graduation rates were a few percentage points higher than they are now, yet district officials said the local rate of students graduating increased under both methodologies.
Jones said that by the next school year special diplomas will be excluded from the calculus.
“Eventually they won’t include special diplomas in the calculation,” she said. “It will make the number lower and misleading.”
Special diplomas include students who take life skills classes or graduate up to the age of 22 in a special education program. While they are still high school graduates, the state will not include them or GED students in the statistics released annually.
As for taking the GED from the calculus this year, Jones said she does not know how that will impact the GED diploma.
“We feel locally that it is an unfortunate thing to not recognize and acknowledge the GED because it provides the same ability for a student to go to college, the military and most employers recognize the GED,” she said.
A statement by Gov. Charlie Crist contributes the rate increase to more Hispanic and African-American students graduating than ever before. He said graduation rates for these two groups of students have increased by 9.3 percent.
“Our graduation rate is one of many recent measurements showing the progress we are making to ensure every student is capable of academic success,” Crist said.
Although district and state officials are pleased with the increases, Bud Chiles, president of The Lawton Chiles Foundation, said the new graduation rate “is nothing for anyone to boast about.”
“Is it accurate for Gov. Charlie Crist to describe Florida’s education system as a ‘rising star’ when our graduation rate is reportedly the 47th out of 50 states? That’s how Florida’s graduation rate really compares,” he said in a prepared statement released last week.
Chiles pointed to a report from the EPE Research Center stating that Florida’s graduation rate was 57.5 percent in 2006 — the third worst in the county.
“Florida’s students will never get the resources they need as long as our leaders continue to hide our poor performance in education,” he said.
Lee County’s dropout rate also increased from 1.8 percent to 1.3 percent in the 2008-09 school year. The rate is taken from the amount of students who leave a school in one academic year.