Feds slam CA’s graduate rate as inaccurate
(Calif.) The graduation rate among the state’s high school seniors has been steadily gaining since 2010. But a new federal audit suggests it may not be as good as reported.
After a two year review, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General said the California Department of Education failed to provide “reasonable assurances the reported graduation rates were accurate and complete” for the 2013-14 school year.
As a result, the CDE has agreed to implement more rigorous policies governing how students are officially designated as high school graduates.
The CDE estimated these changes could drop the statewide graduation rate by 2 percent, but could also have more significant impacts on specific local educational agencies and individual schools.
California’s graduation rate among students who began high school in 2012-13 was 83.2 percent, just above the national average of 82 percent.
A high school diploma’s representation of student skill has long been a source of controversy nationwide. Before Congress adopted the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, states had far more discretion over who was awarded a diploma and what was required to receive one.
In an effort to impose more standardization, ESSA requires states to calculate graduation rates based on the number of high school students who earn a traditional diploma within four years.
ESSA also provides direction on excluding students that end up earning less rigorous certifications, such as the general equivalency diploma.
California’s problems revolve around students who were counted but earned a diploma issued through an adult education program or who passed the state’s High School Proficiency Exam.
Other states have run into similar problems. Last year, Indiana was forced to revise its policy of counting among its high school graduates all students who received a “general diploma.”
In 2016, some 8,600 Indiana students received a diploma that has less demanding course requirements. Had the new calculation measure been in place that year, the state’s graduation rate would have dropped from 89 percent to 78 percent.
The California audit was finalized in January but is only now coming to light because of policy changes that are expected to be considered by the state board of education next month.
Although the CDE disputes the notion that it has not properly supervised and ensured the accuracy of the graduation rate, state officials also said in written comments that the CDE is not responsible for the fidelity of the system.
“The CDE concurs that it did not monitor local entities' processes to ensure that students who graduated met State graduation requirements,” said Michelle Zumot, chief deputy superintendent in a Nov. 6, 2017 letter to the U.S. Department of Education. “This was not an oversight nor a deficiency by the CDE.
“The CDE will seek to increase monitoring within their limited authority resources,” Zumot said. “California is a local control state, which means that local school boards are responsible for ensuring that students graduating from schools under their purview meet local and state graduation requirements.”
The audit findings were drawn from high school graduation data from three of the state’s largest LEAs: Los Angeles Unified, Los Angeles County Office of Education and the Baldwin Park Charter School.
Although the CDE will present to the state board next month six proposed changes to the graduation rate policy, there are three that will likely impact the overall rate downward:
- The CDE will no longer remove students from a cohort who transfer to adult education programs or community college and do not receive a “regular high school” diploma;
- The CDE will no longer count students who receive an adult education diploma as “regular high school” graduates; and
- The CDE will no longer count students who pass the California High School Proficiency Examination “regular high school” graduates.