Schools concerned about calculations for graduation rates

By Nicole Johnson  bio | email | Twitter

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Educators say the way high school graduation rates are calculated statewide aren't fair. School districts say it's making it look like the rate of graduation is lower than it really is.

At the seven high schools in Berkeley County School District, officials say graduation rates would be much higher, possibly by ten percentage points, if it weren't for how the state education department calculates that number.

"I know that all of our local districts, as well as districts throughout the state are having the same problem of accounting for students who are moving back and forth and not even entering into a particular district. I imagine their numbers are pretty similar to what we're seeing here in Berkeley County," BCSD spokesperson Kathie Sizemore said.

School districts in the tri-county say the number of students the state expects should graduate from high schools could be inflated. In that number the state includes special needs students who remain in school until age 21, eighth graders, some of whom never enroll in high schools, and students who transfer or withdraw. These students could count against a high school's graduation rate.

The State Department of Education says it's up to school districts to send in documents accounting for the transfer students, to keep them from being counted in the number. State officials say they follow rules set by the federal government when it comes to calculating the rates. The federal laws regarding graduation rate calculations went into effect statewide this school year. Spokesperson Gary West says the education department tries to help districts as much as possible with the transfer student documenting process.

Berkeley County is calling for a statewide database that keeps track of the students for more accountability.

"We have challenges for our larger schools because obviously there are more students who need to be tracked, more files that need to be followed. For our smaller schools having a graduation rate that isn't accurate can really impact them because even one student that doesn't graduate counted against them, really impacts their graduation rate," Sizemore said.

At DD2 Superintendent Joe Pye estimates graduation rates would be 10 percentage points higher if calculated differently. He is also calling for a new system to document student enrollment and departures.

CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley says the state's current approach to calculating the graduation rate requires principals to provide a large amount of documentation and paperwork, which is burdensome.

Berkeley County says high school report card schools are largely based on graduation rates, so inaccurate rates could hurt scores, leading some people to believe there are problems with the quality of education.

©2010 WCSC. All rights reserved.