The thousands of students who each year walk across a stage in late May or early June to get their high school diplomas aren’t technically counted as graduates until more than seven months later when the Maryland State Department of Education plans to release its graduation data.
The state department of education recently switched the way it counts graduates, and Bill Reinhard, a spokesperson for MSDE, said this week that the cohort graduation rate — which tracks all students who enter high school in ninth grade — is more accurate but takes more time to calculate.
“We need the data from the summer” of students who completed high school requirements during summer school, he said. “That data is still being assembled.”
The state education department did release updated graduation numbers for the class of 2011, offering what it calls a five-year graduation rate that factors in students who remained in school an extra year to earn their diplomas. That five-year rate does not include summer school following students’ fifth year in high school.
But the state did not release the four-year graduation rate for the class of 2012, even though that group finished the same time as the fifth-year seniors counted under the class of 2011.
“It’s what we’re able to do now,” Reinhard said. He said the four-year graduation data will likely be released in January.
Locally, school administrators months ago determined what their graduation rate was, at least unofficially. School board members and the superintendent have said the county’s rate last year is about 90 percent, or just under.
The St. Mary’s school administrators are heistant to formally release that number, though, in case the state’s “scrubbed” version differs. In the meantime, school administrators said, they can use their own determined rates to help plan whether they are on the right track.
The state’s new cohort graduation rate is a more realistic measure of how many students graduate. In St. Mary’s, the cohort rate has been several percentage points lower than the previous rate calculations. For example, the 2011 four-year cohort rate was 83.7 percent compared to the old method that showed 87.7 percent.
When a fifth year is added to the cohort calculation, the rate increased slightly for the class of 2011 to 86.4 percent.
Reinhard said the delay in releasing graduation information was acceptable to state school board members and employees.
“What we’re looking for is trends,” Reinhard said.
Mary Gable, state assistant superintendent for academic policy, said the data is useful to look back at what a particular school or county is doing to help get students to graduation.
“Graduation data doesn’t fluctuate significantly” from one year to the next, she said.
Gable said that the state has set a target of reaching a 95 percent graduation rate by the year 2020. She would not say whether that was a four-year rate or a five-year rate, other than to say there can be only one target, per federal guidelines.
“The goal is to graduate students when they’re ready for college and careers,” she said.
The state has also changed the way it calculates dropout rates. The new method uses the number of students who dropped out of a particular graduation class over the course of the previous four years, as opposed to the former method that looked at how many students dropped out of a school in a given year across all grades.
Like the graduation rate, the new dropout rate information lags a year. The most current data available is for the class of 2011; the dropout rate for that class was 11.4 percent, meaning more than one in 10 students that started ninth grade in 2007 dropped out sometime during the next four years.
The dropout rates increased between the classes of 2010 and 2011 for some subgroups of students. About one-quarter of students in special education and one-quarter of students who were considered from low-income families dropped out from the class of 2011.
About 17 percent of black students dropped out, compared to about 10 percent of white students from St. Mary’s County’s class of 2011.
The overall dropout rates for the class of 2011 at Great Mills High School was 18 percent. Chopticon High was about 9 percent and at Leonardtown High was just over 7 percent.