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Oldham's graduation rates slip

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By Tracy Harris

Oldham County Schools graduation rates fell last year, according to a report released last week by the Kentucky Department of Education.

But district administrators said the number doesn’t accurately reflect graduation rates because of a change in the way rates are calculated.

Oldham County’s district-wide graduation rate for 2010-11 fell to 85.6 percent — falling nearly 3 percentage points from 2009-10.

The drop belies previously steady graduation rates, officials say.

Leslie Robertson, the district’s assessment and federal programs coordinator, said there are problems with the average freshman graduation rate calculation, which the state began using in 2010. 

Previously, the state calculated graduation rates the way most people would expect – using the number of students who graduated in four years and who had individual education plans allowing more than four years for graduation. 

The number of graduates was divided by the number of graduates plus the number of drop-outs from that class, according to Lisa Gross, spokesperson for KDE.

But in 2010, Kentucky schools began to use the AFGR formula, which is based on the assumption that membership is consistent over time, Robertson said.

“You’re going to be shocked by the number,” she said. “It’s not an honest number.”

Currently, graduation rates are calculated based on the average size of the graduating class during its freshman and sophomore years.

For example, the rate released this year for 2011 graduates was calculated using the average class size of the 2007-08 freshman class and 2008-09 sophomore class.

Unfortunately, the calculation only works for steady population figures, Robertson said.

“It doesn’t account for significant changes in population,” she said.

It also does not count students who have an individual education plan allowing more than four years for graduation.

KDE officials calculated graduation rates for several years using both the old “leaver” formula and the current AFGR formula, Gross said.

The statewide graduation rate differs significantly between the two formulae.

For 2009 graduating class, 83.91 percent graduated according the old formula. 

But the AFGR formula showed only 75.1 percent graduating.

The results were similar for the 2008 graduating class — 84.52 percent using the old formula compared to 75 percent with the AFGR formula.

Robertson cautions parent to not be alarmed by the rates — in part because the AFGR formula won’t be around long.

It’s a transitional formula being used as school districts nation-wide move to a “cohort model,” she said.

When the current junior class graduates in 2013, the formula will change again.

U.S. Department of Education officials are pushing all schools to report disaggregated data — that is, the graduation rate for not just an entire graduating class but for specific demographics like gender and race.

The cohort formula will use a new state-wide student tracking system to calculate the rate based on exact figures.

“This will allow for more accurate comparisons to be made from state to state,” Robertson said.

But, she points out, graduation rates using different calculations can’t be compared.

The county’s district-wide figure of 85.6 percent averages rates at the three high schools — 89.7 percent at North Oldham High, 82.3 percent at Oldham County High and 81.8 percent at South Oldham.

Statewide graduation rates are rising, now up to 78 percent. The 2010-11 rate for Jefferson County Public Schools dropped slightly, down to 67.8 percent.