New Formula Causes Graduation Rate to Drop
A change in the way the state calculates high school graduation rates has resulted in a drop for Moore County, along with most others in North Carolina, compared to previous years.
The numbers, released Wednesday, show that 66.7 of the ninth-graders who started high school in 2002 in Moore County graduated within four years -- out of 1025 freshmen, 684 ended up graduating on time.
Statewide, the graduation rate last year was 68.1 percent. In the 2004-2005 school year, using a different calculation method, the state that the graduation rate more than 95 percent for Moore County and North Carolina.
Dr. Susan Purser, superintendent of the Moore County school system, said that previous calculation method wasn't the best way to measure graduation rates. She said knew a realistic graduation rate was probably lower than what the state had been reporting.
"This was not a surprising statistic for me," she said.
Three of the four high schools in Moore County performed better than the state average: Union Pines, 73.3 percent; North Moore, 69.5 percent; and Pinecrest, 68.3 percent. Pinckney Academy, the county's only vocational/alternative high school, had a graduation rate of 10.8 percent -- four students out of a 37-member freshman class graduated in four years.
Along with Moore County, 55 other school systems had graduation rates between 60 and 70 percent -- that's nearly half of all state school systems.
Because of the new calculation methods, comparing this year's rates to last year's would be an apples-to-oranges exercise, school officials said. Under the previous method, the state had measured the graduation rate by looking at the number of graduating students in a senior class and determining how many of those graduates had completed school in four years.
But in this year's new rate, called the "cohort rate," officials are looking at students who enter ninth grade and calculate what percentage of those students finish four years later.
"I think this way to calculate a graduation rate," Purser said, "if we expand it, makes more sense than the way the state has done it in the past."
But Purser cautioned against assuming that the entire one-third of the students who didn't graduate within four years are dropouts. The rate doesn't count students who take more than four years to graduate or students who choose to seek a GED as graduates. It also doesn't count special needs students, who receive certificates for completing their course of study instead of diplomas.
"I think it's dis-serving some of our students," Purser said, "where we may have seen a program that a student needs is a five-year program. We're only reporting which ones do it in four years, so we're kind of saying, 'What you're doing is not important.'"
Purser said state officials are developing a way to report rates for students who graduate in five years or less. She said she would like to see a rate that also took into account.
A data management issue also could have affected the calculation process.
Because some school systems use different computer systems, the state could lose track of a student who transfers to another school outside Moore County. Even if that student graduated at another high school in four years, he or she would not be included as a graduate in the Moore County percentages.
"I think this is an important statistic," Purser said, "but you've got to look at in context, and you've got to ask questions about why this number is where it is."
In the future, Purser said, the challenge will be to look further at the break down of students who don't graduate in four years -- what students took longer to graduate, what students got their GED, what students transferred, what students have special needs and what students actually dropped out of high school.
"That's a huge piece," she said, "looking at those students who do not complete school at all and what is it that is missing for those students."
Purser said she thinks the Moore County school system is prepared for the challenge. School improvement teams have been examining the issue and working to make sure they meet the needs of individual students.
"I think our schools are doing better today than they were five years ago," Purser said. "The fact that our schools spend time trying to identify every student is an important aspect of the process It's about taking it to a student level and trying to determine where are we in being helpful."
Katherine Evans can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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