Kentucky schools aquire new graduation rate formula

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By Ron Benningfield

In a move toward a more accurate measurement of high school graduation rates, the Kentucky Department of Education this year for the first time has used a formula that is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education called the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate.
Using this formula means that high school graduation rate numbers may be several points lower than in previous years, reflecting a different method of computing the rate and not necessarily meaning that fewer students are finishing high school.
The state will use the AFGR for the next three years to provide public high school data that will be available for federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability purposes. For the 2009-10 school year, the statewide AFGR was 76.68 percent. (Graduation rate data is lagged by one year for accountability purposes.)
To make adequate yearly progress for NCLB purposes, schools and districts will be required to meet a goal of 82.32 percent or close the gap between the previous year’s rate by at least 10 percent. The Kentucky Board of Education approved the interim goal of 82.32 percent as a component of 703 KAR 5:060, the regulation describing the interim assessment process.
Graduation goals for reporting in 2012 and beyond must be determined by the Kentucky’s Board of Education during the regulation process for a new assessment system which is to be in place by then.
The AFGR formula divides the average of prior years’ 9th- and 10th-grade enrollment by the number of four-year diploma and more-than-four-year diploma recipients in the current reporting year. Students with disabilities whose Individual Education Plans enable them to take more than four years to obtain a diploma are included in this calculation.
This formula enables disaggregation of data, allowing the state and districts to provide rates not just for classes as a whole, but also for males, females, and ethnic groups inside those classes. Kentucky also is reporting an adjusted rate that recognizes non-traditional diploma holders, such as students with severe disabilities who receive certificates of completion.      
Lisa Gross, Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson, said the state previously computed its graduation rates by totaling the number of high school graduates in a given year, then considering the number of students who dropped out of school during the previous four years and certain other factors.  
The new formula is intended, according to Gross, to provide a clearer picture of graduation rates while meeting requirements of the federal NCLB Act. When the new assessment system is in place, it will be able to follow each child from the time he or she enters ninth grade until graduation. Until that time, the computed figures may make things look a little worse than they actually are, because the data is based on different ways of calculating the rates.
LaRue County’s AFGR for the latest school year’s data (2009-10) is 84.94 compared to the previous rate of 81.12 (both years calculated under the new formula for comparison). The 2009-10 rate ranks LaRue County at 33rd out of the 169 K-12 districts in Kentucky.  
Amanda Reed, district instructional supervisor and assessment coordinator, said the interim formula the district will use for the next three years is significantly different from the prior formula in that it measures graduates against the average enrollment when that group of students would have been in 9th and 10th grades.
“For districts with a stable population, the results should be fairly accurate,” she said. “However, there is no means of accounting for transfers in any way. As a result, rates for communities that have had significant growth or decline in population could be misleading.”
In three years, the graduation rate will be determined on individual students, the most accurate way to determine the rate, according to Reed.
“At that time we will be looking at what actually happens to every student that enrolls in LaRue County High School individually,” she said. “Did they graduate on time, transfer to another school, drop-out, get their GED? It will be truest reflection of graduation rates we have ever had.”