Check out the report released on Thursday -- written primarily by the brilliant Jennifer Jennings (a/k/a Eduwonkette) with minor contributions from myself -- showing that in NYC, the discharge rate has significantly increased between 2000-2007.
While the city reported an "official" graduation rate of 62% for the class of 2007, if all special education students were included this would drop to 58 percent. If GEDs were excluded, this would fall to 55 percent, and if discharged students were counted as dropouts, this would further fall even further -- to 44 percent. (click on the graph to the left to enlarge it.)
Most shocking is the fact that the rate and numbers of students discharged in their first year of high school literally doubled. This may be because these students moved out of the city or to parochial or private schools in larger numbers than ever before, yet analysis of census and enrollment data provide no evidence for a rising rate of migration or transfer to parochial schools.
More likely, these students are entering HS even more overage than before (due to multiple grade retentions), since no student can be legally discharged before the age of 17. Or perhaps many of these discharges are illegal.
What is especially tragic is little or nothing has been done to address the problem of discharged students since the problem of "pushouts" was first exposed by Advocates for Children in 2002. Perhaps this is because the higher the discharge rate, the higher the graduation rate by definition, since all these students are excluded from the denominator for the purposes of calculating the graduation rate.
In fact, in the report, we point out several features of the DOE's high-stakes accountability system which encourage schools to rid themselves of low-performing students as fast as possible through discharging them, instead of giving them the support, resources, and smaller classes they need to graduate.
This is a "black hole" of accounting which must be addressed. As a result of our report, and at the request of Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, the State Comptroller has agreed to audit NYC's graduation and discharge data. Hurray!
There's loads more interesting information in our report, including tantalizing evidence about possible data manipulation for the Class of 2005. This class had originally caused headlines when its graduation rate was first released in the Mayor's management report in February 2006, revealing a drop from the year before -- 53.4 percent compared to 54.3 percent for the previous class. According to the NY Times at the time:
The political touchiness over yesterday's numbers was evident in how the mayor's office chose to report them this year. Administration officials created a new category in the preliminary management report that had the effect of masking the decline in the four-year graduation rate. Although that rate continued to be reported separately, the new category factored in students who stayed on for an extra year of school, allowing the mayor's office to state, "More students graduated from high school in four years or are still enrolled in school for a fifth year."
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg said it would take years before many of his changes, like grade retention policies that hold back elementary and middle school children largely on the basis of test scores, were reflected in improved graduation rates.Then, in June, the DOE announced that the figure of 53.4 percent had been a mistake and that this class had really graduated at 58.2 percent. As the NY Times uncritically reported at the time, "because of a computer glitch, last year's citywide graduation rate was five points higher than previously reported — the highest on-time graduation rate in more than two decades.....Officials said the mayor was angry after learning of the mistake and intent on getting an accurate tally."
How did this more "accurate tally" happen? By looking at the data, and comparing DOE's original and "corrected" graduation reports , it appears that over 1000 students may have been recategorized as full-time special education and then discharged at the astonishing rate of 39%.
At the same time, the number of general education students who had entered four years before fell by over 2,000. All of these changes, unremarked at the time by any reporter, had the convenient effect of allowing the Chancellor to claim a sharp rise rather than a fall in the city's "official" graduation rate, (which includes only general education and part-time special education students), as well as proof of the efficacy of his reforms.