Miami-Dade Graduation Rates Among the Worst
By Kathleen McGrory, The Miami Herald
Apr. 2–Fewer than half of Miami-Dade’s public school students graduate from high school on time, according to a national report released Tuesday.
The local figures are in step with what experts say are abysmally low graduation rates in the country’s 50 largest cities. Of the grouping, Miami ranked near the bottom, with the nation’s 16th-lowest graduation rate.
The report, released by the nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance — originally chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now chaired by his wife Alma — found that a little over half of students in the country’s urban public high schools graduate in four years.
The figures underscore the complexities of calculating graduation and dropout rates, a process that varies from state to state and district to district. On Tuesday, the Bush administration announced it would require states to report the statistics in a uniform way.
“In the coming weeks, I will take administrative steps to ensure that all states use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time, and how many drop out,” U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said at a dropout-prevention summit Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Detroit and Indianapolis had the lowest graduation rates, with 25 and 31 percent of students, respectively, graduating on time, the report stated.
In many instances, the report showed a graduation rate gap between the urban districts and their surrounding metropolitan areas. As Florida has county-wide school districts, the study could not compare urban versus suburban graduation rates for Miami.
Still, experts caution that graduation rates are tricky figures to assess.
States calculate their graduation rates using a variety of methods. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, states can choose how to determine the rates and set their own goals for improving them. What’s more, local school districts and think tanks may use their own methods, further complicating analysis of the problem.
The result: Graduation rates for the same school district can vary, depending on who’s counting.
“There are lots of different ways of doing the count,” said Walter Secada, an education professor at the University of Miami. “The counting itself can be a challenge. It is tough to track students once they leave the district.”
The report released Tuesday employed the Cumulative Promotion Index, which looks at the ratio of students who are promoted at each grade level and multiplies them together, said study author Christopher Swanson. Doing so creates a probability of how many students can be expected to finish high school with a diploma, he said.
Students who earn their GEDs are not counted as graduates, he said.
By contrast, the Florida Department of Education tracks individual students from the ninth grade through graduation.
Students who earn a GED are counted as graduates because a GED counts as a diploma, spokeswoman Jennifer Fennell said.
In December, state Department of Education officials estimated the graduation rate in Miami-Dade County was around 64 percent — 15 percentage points higher than the figure calculated by the America’s Promise Alliance.
“We do think we have a very accurate method, because we track and count every single student,” Fennell said.
In her comments Tuesday, Spellings did not say which measure of graduation or dropout rates she favored.
Fennell said Florida would welcome the move toward a national standard for calculating graduation and dropout rates. Broward and Miami-Dade schools officials agreed.
Broward Superintendent Jim Notter thinks a universal method of calculating the graduation rate is long overdue. But he is curious who would choose the method.
“I believe the end goal is laudable,” he said. “The detail of the process is going to be the battle.”
Secada cautioned educators and policy makers against focusing too much on the methodologies — and not enough on the students.
“No matter how you slice it, Miami isn’t doing too well,” Secada said. “We can’t lose sight of that.”
Miami Herald staff writer Nirvi Shah and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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