Grad rates drop under new formula

High school graduation rates in Carson City, and across most of the state, continued to drop in the second year of using a new system to calculate them, according to a Nevada Department of Education report.

“Anytime you see school statistics, you always hope they are going up instead of going down,” said Richard Stokes, superintendent of the Carson City School District. “In this particular case, we have to explain a couple of factors.”

Carson City’s graduation rate for 2012 was 77.91 percent. That’s down from 80.99 percent in 2011, the first year of the new system referred to as the adjusted cohort graduation rate. It’s well over the state average of 63.14 percent.

There are two simple explanations, Stokes said. First, each class has its own academic skill set, and that will naturally fluctuate year to year. The second is that the state Department of Education decided this year to no longer include graduates from within the Nevada Department of Corrections.

“We do a significant amount of work in the prison eduction program,” Stokes explained. “If we are not able to count those people who are graduating high school, we’re going to see a decrease.”

The more in-depth explanations require a look into the method of calculating the adjusted cohort graduation rate.

In the past, the graduation rate most often was determined by comparing the number of seniors in a graduating class to the number who actually received a diploma. Each state, and sometimes school districts within those states, used varying formulas to determine the graduation rates, making it impossible to make an accurate comparison.

In an effort to standardize results, every state shifted to the cohort system, in which students are tracked from their freshman year through graduation.

Under earlier regulations, if a student left one high school, officials took that student’s word that he or she would enroll in another school. Now, that student is considered a dropout until the former school receives the transfer record from the new school.

“This new system makes students and school districts more accountable,” Stokes said. “If we have a student who drops out, we have to ask ourselves why is he dropping out and what do we need to do to get him across the stage. It makes us do a better job of reaching out to every student. It’s our job to help them to graduate.”

While Stokes appreciates the tighter regulations, they pose some problems when it comes to compliance, he said.

“Having a transient population, adding to it the difficult economy, that when school staff has to be on top of things from a clerical perspective,” he said.

Districts with a higher graduation rate than Carson City are Douglas County with 80.41 percent, Lander County with 80.85 percent, Lyon County with 77.98 percent and Pershing County with 80.36 percent. Charter schools improved from a 27.84 percent graduation rate to 35.04 percent.

Throughout the state, seven school districts improved their graduation rates when calculating a four-year rate. When looking at the five-year rate, allowing an extra year to complete high school, eight districts improved.

“This fifth-year graduation data suggests that many of our Nevada students are continuing their education beyond the traditional four years to earn a regular diploma,” according to a news release from the Nevada Department of Education.

While the system was designed to create a uniform method of reporting data, there remain some variables that skew results from state to state, according to the education department. In Nevada, students in are required to pass the High School Proficiency Exam to graduate. Not all states have similar requirements. In some states, special-education students who receive an adjusted diploma count as graduates. In Nevada, they do not.

As the district learns to better track students who transfer out, Stokes said, other procedural changes being implemented through the $10 million Race to the Top grant should also help improve the graduation rate.

“We are looking to always increase our graduation rate,” he said. “We are unifying curriculum and assessment so students who are in the secondary level will be coming into high school more prepared. ... We believe that will translate into increased graduation rates starting in the next two or three years.”


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