‘Rounding the Globe’- 8: Dropout Rates We Have Known
This is submission from the “Better-Late-Than-Never” Dept. On March 14, 2010, the Boston Globe published a curious editorial, which followed up on a news story reporting a decline in the statewide high school dropout rate. The decline was extremely small, but no doubt seemed large to some in the context of ongoing ed policy debates. MCAS opponents have claimed that test was exacerbating the dropout rate, so if that isn’t the case, score one point for test proponents, like the Boston Globe.
Here is the Globe article reporting the modest decline:
Here is the Globe editorial celebrating the report:
These pieces share certain deficiencies that any student of dropout rates, regardless of policy orientation, would immediately note: unaccountably, there is no breakdown for African-Americans and, in the news story, for any school district other than Boston.
A reliable statistical analysis of the dropout rate will not be provided by this blogger who earned a paltry D- in statistics in college, in those bleak days before grade inflation some forty-five years ago (I hasten to point out I had to study for my final exam by candlelight during the Great East Coast Blackout of 1965. Under optimum conditions, I’m sure I could have conquered the foothills of a C).
However, my curiosity was piqued when the Globe editorial writer felt obliged to inform readers that these newest stats resulted from the DESE “fine-tuning” (his words) its methodology. Oh. A more knowledgeable colleague led me to these paragraphs from the DESE site:
“In the 2005-06 school year, the Department began to cross-reference SIMS data with the General Educational Development (GED) Testing Service database. In prior school years, the Department relied solely on district notification regarding students who received their GED. As a result, the Department more accurately tracks students who drop out of high school and then earn a GED therefore decreasing the number of students who are considered final dropouts.
“In the 2006-07 school year, the Department modified the SIMS data element, Enrollment Status at Time of Data Collection. In prior years, districts would report the number of students who indicated that they were transferring to another district and the Department excluded them from the dropout calculations. The expanded dropout and transfer codes provide additional information to the Department on students’ plans after leaving the district. Those students who were coded as a transfer to an in-state public school with no record of re-enrollment in another school district before October 1st of the following school year are now considered to be dropouts.”
These paragraphs were certainly interesting and provided more context for evaluating any slight statistical decline. So forgive me if I don’t break out the champagne quite yet. Most interesting, though, is the final sentence of that brief triumphalist Globe editorial about what might be an illusionary statistical change.
“And it [the reputed dropout rate decrease] should put to rest the notion that the MCAS exam is driving high-school students out the door.”
Well, not quite! But what draws me to this sentence is the anxiety the Globe inadvertently betrays about opponents that it marginalizes and whose views it regularly suppresses on its op ed page.
By the way, another colleague has written a letter to the Globe about this issue. Let’s see if it gets printed.
For those interested, here is more Massachusetts dropout rate info:
Here is national dropout rate info:
I couldn’t find web pages that showed the national dropout rate over time, and where readers were assured that the methodology used was the same. But these links might be helpful for those who wish to pursue this issue:
SEMI-CORRECTION: This blogger has been chiding the Globe for ignoring Diane Ravitch in its news columns and on its op ed page. In fact, the Globe did run a piece by her, in which she took on but the latest of those flamed-out, meteor-like panaceas: “21st Century Skills.” This piece appeared six-months before her recent policy “turn-around.”