WBEZ | graduation rates http://www.wbez.org/tags/graduation-rates Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en What it Means That the High School Diploma is Now a Moving Target http://www.wbez.org/news/what-it-means-high-school-diploma-now-moving-target-114722 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/movingtarget.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>About three months ago, Bill Nelson got an unusual phone call.</p><p>Nelson oversees data and assessment for the Agua Fria Union High School District in southwest Phoenix, Ariz. The call was from a former student, who left the district back in 2011.</p><p>He was &quot;not quite a graduate,&quot; Nelson recalls. At the time, the young man had failed part of Arizona&#39;s high school exit exam, called the AIMS.</p><p>But in 2015, Arizona rescinded the AIMS requirement, and made that retroactive. So this former student was in luck.</p><p>After Nelson looked up his records, he was able to issue a new transcript and diploma, making the young man eligible for a steady, relatively well-paying job as a miner in Colorado. &quot;He was really very happy,&quot; Nelson says.</p><p>Which raises&nbsp;<a href="http://apps.npr.org/grad-rates/">a question NPR Ed has been exploring</a>&nbsp;for some time: What does it mean to graduate from high school?</p><p>The answer used to be fairly straightforward: Pass a given number of classes in a few core subjects, and you&#39;re good. Or if you didn&#39;t make it, you could take a test called the GED for a second chance.</p><p>That simplicity has more recently been replaced by a whole lot of confusion. The GED has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/01/27/464418078/lowering-the-bar-for-the-new-ged-test">two competing high school equivalency tests now,</a>&nbsp;for example.</p><p>And in the past decade, high school exit exams have passed quickly in and out of vogue. Half of states required them in 2012. This year? Only 13.</p><p>As&nbsp;Education Week&nbsp;<a href="http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/27/states-move-to-issue-high-school-diplomas.html">reported last week</a>, when states get rid of these exams, the question naturally arises: Why leave students without a diploma, when the test they failed is no longer required?</p><p>The newspaper reported that Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, California and Alaska, along with Arizona, have so far passed laws to allow students who failed some of these tests to get their diplomas anyway.</p><p>The change could profoundly affect the lives of tens of thousands of people. The difference between a high school graduate and a high school dropout is a<a href="http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/median-weekly-earnings-by-education-gender-race-and-ethnicity-in-2014.htm">&nbsp;37 percent increase in weekly earnings on average</a>.</p><div id="con465054803" previewtitle="Related NPR Stories"><p>But making the switch is resource-intensive. In Georgia, some of these students&nbsp;<a href="http://getschooled.blog.myajc.com/2015/03/30/governor-signs-bill-today-enabling-8000-georgians-to-receive-high-school-diploma/">should have graduated up to 20 years ago</a>. In California, reports say, schools and districts are<a href="http://www.scpr.org/news/2015/11/09/55511/thousands-stopped-by-exit-exam-may-qualify-for-dip/">responding unevenly</a>&nbsp;to the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_28948354/state-exit-exam-suspension-gives-hope-thousands-seeking">logistical nightmare</a>&nbsp;of tracking down former students who have long since gone on with their lives. In Texas, the state education agency had to rule on the eligibility of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Wylie-Senior-Deemed-Ineligible-for-Graduation-Based-on-Texas-Senate-Bill-305935721.html">just one student.</a></p></div><p>In Agua Fria, Bill Nelson&nbsp;<a href="http://kjzz.org/content/139559/former-arizona-high-school-students-who-failed-aims-getting-retroactive-diplomas">set up a hotline&nbsp;</a>for students to call and dug into student records going back five years. He did it all on his own initiative, with no extra resources from the state. He mailed 40 diplomas out just three months after the change in the law.</p><p>The issue is clearly complicated. As we&#39;ve reported,<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/12/15/459821708/u-s-high-school-graduation-rate-hits-new-record-high">&nbsp;increasing high school graduation rates</a>&nbsp;is a national priority, reinforced by federal law. At the same time, the Common Core is supposed to be enforcing higher &quot;college and career ready&quot; standards. But constantly changing requirements make it harder to believe that any consistent standard is being maintained.</p><p>&quot;The requirements for a high school diploma vary from state to state and even from district to district,&quot; says Russell Rumberger, a professor of education at UC Santa Barbara who has studied the high school diploma extensively. &quot;This means that the knowledge and skills students possess when graduating, and hence their level of preparedness for college and careers, also vary.&quot;</p><h3>More On High School Graduation</h3><div><div class="bucketwrap image medium" id="res465055600" previewtitle="NPR Ed Grad Rates Project" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px 0px 40px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: 14px; line-height: 14px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; vertical-align: baseline; position: relative; float: none; width: auto; clear: left; overflow: hidden; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><div class="imagewrap" data-crop-type="" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; font-weight: inherit; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: inherit; line-height: inherit; font-family: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; position: relative; text-align: center;"><a href="http://apps.npr.org/grad-rates/" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; font-weight: inherit; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: inherit; line-height: inherit; font-family: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(109, 138, 196); -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration: none;"><img alt="NPR Ed Grad Rates Project: apps.npr.org/grad-rates/" class="img" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/31/screen-shot-2016-01-31-at-12.42.10-pm-f6ca9141e512437c30f99971b4c69a728484c893-s300-c85.png" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 10px solid; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; font-weight: inherit; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: inherit; line-height: inherit; font-family: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; max-width: none; display: block; width: 310px; height: 231px; float: left;" title="NPR Ed Grad Rates Project" /></a></div><div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/02/01/464850639/what-it-means-that-the-high-school-diploma-is-now-a-moving-target?ft=nprml&amp;f=464850639"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></div></div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 10:27:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-it-means-high-school-diploma-now-moving-target-114722 The surprising power of the ninth grade http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-16/surprising-power-ninth-grade-113374 <p><div><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Fernando%20Rodriguez%2C%2017%2C%20is%20a%20senior%20at%20George%20Washington%20High%20School%20in%20Chicago..jpg" title="Fernando Rodriguez, 17, is a senior at George Washington High School in Chicago. (Amy Scott/Marketplace)" /></div><div><p>The school year is just a few weeks old, and ninth graders at George Washington High on Chicago&rsquo;s southeast side are still trying to get the hang of things. They&rsquo;re at a much bigger school, with hundreds more kids, and a more complicated class schedule. To help ease the transition, the school has grouped most of the freshman classes along one hallway.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps things easier, so freshmen aren&#39;t going all over the place,&rdquo; said history teacher George Fotopoulos. &ldquo;High school can be pretty overwhelming as it is.&rdquo;</p><p>And ninth grade isn&rsquo;t just any grade.</p><p>&ldquo;Freshman year&rsquo;s where you start,&rdquo; said Fernando Rodriguez, who&rsquo;s a senior now. &ldquo;If you start strong, chances are you&rsquo;re going to end strong.&rdquo;</p><p>He&rsquo;s got that right.</p><p>Years ago, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that how students perform during their freshman year is&nbsp;the&nbsp;<a href="https://ccsr.uchicago.edu/publications/track-indicator-predictor-high-school-graduation" target="_blank">best predictor</a>&nbsp;of whether they&rsquo;ll graduate &mdash; better than their previous grades or attendance or their family&rsquo;s income.</p><p>The first year sets the tone for the rest of high school, said Sarah Duncan, who co-directs the university&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="https://ncs.uchicago.edu/" target="_blank">Network for College Success</a>. She cited the example of a student who gets off to a rough start, and fails a class or two in ninth grade.</p><p>&ldquo;We&#39;ve experienced many teachers who thought that giving a freshman who&rsquo;s 14 years old an F would make them work harder,&rdquo; said Duncan. But, she said, &ldquo;Most kids interpret an F as &lsquo;I don&#39;t belong here, I am not going to succeed here.&rsquo; They come to school less, they do less and less work, and then they&#39;re in this downward spiral of falling further and further behind.&rdquo;</p><p>To prevent that, Chicago Public Schools started arming teachers with a steady stream of data on grades, course credits and attendance. If the data reveal a student is struggling in a certain area, a faculty member can step in right away.</p><p>At Washington High, students at risk are also assigned mentors.</p><p>When Kathleen Valente became an assistant principal at the school three years ago, &ldquo;we had security guards being mentors, coaches being mentors,&rdquo; she said, adding that it paid off.&nbsp; &ldquo;We saw increases for those students, just that little touch.&quot;</p><p>Back then, just 65 percent of students graduated in four years.</p><p>Last year about 83 percent graduated on time, according to principal Kevin Gallick. And about 88 percent of last year&#39;s freshmen were considered on-track to graduate, he said, meaning they&#39;d earned at least five full-year course credits and failed no more than one core class.&nbsp;</p><p>Based on that trend, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s pretty reasonable to have a 90 percent graduation rate, if we can get things right with today&rsquo;s freshman class,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Big gains in graduation rates, like the ones at Washington High, have&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/07/chicago-graduation-rates/397736/" target="_blank">raised some eyebrows</a>&nbsp;in Chicago, which is one of the largest urban school systems in the country, with a majority of students living in poverty. Chicago&rsquo;s accountability system rates schools on the number of freshmen considered on-track to graduate, and skeptics&nbsp;worry that some schools are goosing their numbers by passing students who aren&rsquo;t prepared.</p><p>But Gallick says his students&rsquo; ACT scores have gone up four years in a row. Scores are also up across the district, said the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Sarah Duncan.</p><p>&nbsp;&ldquo;If we were just passing kids through and not really teaching them,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;then ACT scores should have gone down.&rdquo;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/education/surprising-power-ninth-grade" target="_blank"><em>via Marketplace</em></a></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 16 Oct 2015 11:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-16/surprising-power-ninth-grade-113374 Mayor to CPS on graduation rates: ‘Go back and be accurate.’ http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-cps-graduation-rates-%E2%80%98go-back-and-be-accurate%E2%80%99-113166 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/4626481280_3e71045657_z.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he told Chicago school officials to go back and fix the errors in the graduation rate that were first reported in June by WBEZ and the Better Government Association.</p><p>&ldquo;Soon as there were questions raised, I said, &lsquo;Go back, and analyze what&rsquo;s going on and be accurate,&rsquo;&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;And that&rsquo;s exactly what they did.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago Public Schools officials announced late Thursday it would <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-lowers-graduation-rate-after-errors-found-113148">revise the past four years of graduation rates</a> and make sure to include students who dropped out but <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163">were misclassified as having transferred</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;There was an error pointed out,&rdquo; said CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. &ldquo;We studied that information. We had to wait until the end of the summer schools to have all the data. And then we corrected it.&rdquo;</p><p>Claypool said the errors &ldquo;shouldn&rsquo;t deflect from the fact that the trendline is up.&rdquo;</p><p>The trendline is up -- officials also announced late Thursday that the new 2015 graduation rate is 69.9 percent.</p><p>But the errors raise questions about how well the district is accounting for students who are still dropping out. Under Emanuel, CPS nearly doubled the number of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/meet-companies-profit-when-cps-students-drop-out-111665">alternative schools in the city</a> and opened r<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/how-do-you-find-high-school-dropouts-110816">e-engagement centers</a> to do the work of tracking down kids who are listed as dropouts. But the students who were misclassified wouldn&rsquo;t have been officially listed as dropouts and no one would have known to track them down.</p><p>Emanuel agreed that&rsquo;s cause for concern.</p><p>&ldquo;If we missed a dropout, they&rsquo;re not only dropping out of high school, they&rsquo;re dropping out of life, and their ability to earn a (living),&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So of course I&rsquo;m concerned. I&rsquo;m concerned (about) what it means for the rest of life, not just the system and its data gathering.&rdquo;</p><p>When the errors were <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163">first reported in June</a>, officials admitted there was a problem, but said they didn&rsquo;t plan to go back to fix the publicly-reported statistics.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her </em><a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation"><em>@WBEZeducation</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 02 Oct 2015 16:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-cps-graduation-rates-%E2%80%98go-back-and-be-accurate%E2%80%99-113166 CPS lowers graduation rate after errors found http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-lowers-graduation-rate-after-errors-found-113148 <p><p dir="ltr">The official graduation numbers that Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted throughout his first term and his re-election campaign were wrong.</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Public Schools is revising its official graduation rate after WBEZ and the Better Government Association&nbsp;found thousands of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163">dropouts were being misclassified</a> as transfers.</p><p dir="ltr">The official graduation rate for 2014 was actually 66.3 percent, not 69.4 percent, officials said late Thursday. Every year dating back to 2011, the year Emanuel took office, was revised down two to three percentage points.</p><p dir="ltr">Earlier this year, records obtained by WBEZ and the Better Government Association under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act revealed that since 2011, at least 2,200 students across 25 district high schools were counted as having transferred out of the district, when in reality, they were dropouts.</p><p dir="ltr">At just those 25 CPS high schools, more than 1,000 of the dropouts were mislabeled as moving out of town or going to private schools, but were actually attending CPS alternative schools. More than 600 of the mislabeled dropouts were listed as getting a GED, when state law is clear that students who leave school to enroll in GED programs or attend alternative schools are dropouts.</p><p dir="ltr">One school, Curie Metropolitan High School, labeled more than 100 dropouts every year as leaving to be homeschooled. Another 1,300 of the so-called transfers had no explanation of what school they were supposedly transferring to or were vaguely listed as going to different states or countries.</p><p dir="ltr">When asked in June, district officials acknowledged problems with the system&rsquo;s accounting, but said they had no plan to go back and adjust the numbers.</p><p dir="ltr">John Barker, the district&rsquo;s chief of accountability, said all of those students, plus similar misclassifications at all of the district&rsquo;s 100-plus high schools were put back into <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786">the calculation</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So what you&rsquo;re seeing is an adjusted rate that&rsquo;s a little bit lower because you have more students in the denominator,&rdquo; Barker said. To understand how CPS calculates its graduation rate, watch this animated video.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="465" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/i0EibDr47gc" width="620"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr">Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said the errors were concerning, but she&rsquo;s still encouraged that the number of students graduating is increasing.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The fact that more students have graduated did not change,&rdquo; said Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson. &ldquo;Even with the adjusted rate, we have more students as far as the number.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Jackson said some of recent gains are due to the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-alternative-schools-some-run-profit-companies-come-hefty-price-tag-110239">aggressive expansion</a> <a href="http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/meet-companies-profit-when-cps-students-drop-out-111665">of for-profit alternative schools</a> in the city, many which provide half day, mostly online programs that allow students to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">earn their high school diploma in a fraction of the time</a>. She said the district won&rsquo;t be opening any more of those schools because CPS is in a financial crunch, not because some existing operators have questionable business practices.</p><p dir="ltr">But the raw number of graduates from 2014 to 2015 increased by just 84 students, from 20,232 to 20,316, for a 2015 rate of 69.9 percent, according to district data provided late Thursday. Barker could not immediately say how many dropouts had to be reclassified in the new rate.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Capture_1.JPG" title="Source: Chicago Public Schools" /></div><p>Jackson acknowledged that principals and other staff could feel pressure to improve their school&rsquo;s public reputation. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t doubt that there are some principals who feel a great degree of pressure,&rdquo; Jackson said, adding that she wants to provide more support instead of just layer on more accountability.</p><p dir="ltr">Barker said the district is <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-acknowledges-errors-takes-steps-count-dropouts-correctly-112180">still planning to train school clerks</a> and has developed an internal system to flag misclassifications sooner.</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 01 Oct 2015 22:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-lowers-graduation-rate-after-errors-found-113148 CPS acknowledges errors, takes steps to count dropouts correctly http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-acknowledges-errors-takes-steps-count-dropouts-correctly-112180 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/CurieHighSchool_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago school officials are taking steps to make sure dropouts aren&rsquo;t being mislabeled to make the city&rsquo;s graduation rates look better.</p><p dir="ltr">The action comes after WBEZ and the Better Government Association <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163">reported widespread problems</a> in how student were being classified when they left high school. Thousands were labeled as leaving the city, but then supposedly enrolled in GED programs. State law and policy dictate that students who leave districts to go to GED programs are dropouts.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;CPS is committed to ensuring the accuracy of our data, and we are taking four additional concrete steps to further guarantee the integrity of our data,&rdquo; Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz said in an email sent late Wednesday.</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163" target="_blank"><strong>Related: Emanuel touts bogus graduation rates</strong></a></p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">Those steps are: doing random spot checks of all school transfer data; making principals sign a document taking full responsibility for making sure transfers are, in fact, real transfers; requiring school staff to attend trainings, and referring any questionable activity to the law department and the district&rsquo;s inspector general.</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler first looked into the problem and <a href="http://cps.edu/About_CPS/Departments/Documents/OIG_FY_2014_AnnualReport.pdf">reported wrongdoing</a> in January.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Two high schools had been improperly coding students as transfers to GED programs,&rdquo; he said. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Schuler also found large groups of students were listed as &ldquo;transferred to Mexico,&rdquo; but records didn&rsquo;t include the name or address of any school.</p><p dir="ltr">On Wednesday, Schuler said his office plans to investigate the problem across all 140 high schools.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to hopefully determine the extent of the problem and find out just where responsibility lies for those problems,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re sort of hamstrung to some degree by the size of our office, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean we won&rsquo;t do it. It just might take a little longer than it would if we had more people.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Schuler&rsquo;s office gets hundreds of thousands of reports of fraud every year. He couldn&rsquo;t say exactly how many dealt with bad data.</p><p dir="ltr">The WBEZ and Better Government Association looked at only 25 of 140 high schools -- the ones with the largest numbers of students removed from the graduation rate calculation. A request is pending for the remaining 115. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The errors at that small sampling of schools would lower the publicly reported graduation rate from 69.4 percent to about 67 percent. It is a conservative estimate and would likely be lowered further when all schools are factored in.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the errors in the underlying data, CPS Chief of Accountability John Barker insists the graduation rate is even higher than it&rsquo;s been reported and will continue to be.</p><p dir="ltr">Elaine Allensworth, executive director of University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research said, &ldquo;There&rsquo;s always doubt about what the exact number is, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean the trends in graduation rates aren&rsquo;t real.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Still, district officials and researchers don&rsquo;t dispute the fact the data is riddled with errors.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>. Sarah Karp is a reporter for the <a href="http://www.bettergov.org/">Better Government Association</a>. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/sskedreporter">@SSKedreporter</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-acknowledges-errors-takes-steps-count-dropouts-correctly-112180 Emanuel touts bogus graduation rate http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/CurieHighSchool.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been talking proudly about something that is really a bit of a miracle: Even during a time of tight budgets and leadership chaos, Chicago Public Schools graduation rates have climbed to a record 69.4 percent.</p><p>But new data obtained by WBEZ and the Better Government Association shows that number is wrong.</p><p>CPS records recently obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act show at least 2,200 students from 25 Chicago high schools were counted as having transferred out of the district between 2011 and 2014. In reality, they were dropouts. The transfers aren&rsquo;t factored into CPS graduation rates, while dropouts are.</p><blockquote><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-acknowledges-errors-takes-steps-count-dropouts-correctly-112180"><strong>More on this story: CPS acknowledges errors, takes steps to count dropouts correctly</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>More than half of the 2,200 labeled as moving out of town or going to private schools actually went to alternative schools. Those students should stay in the graduation rate.&nbsp;</p><p>Another 610 of the so-called transfers were listed as getting a GED. State law and policy dictate that students who leave districts to go to GED programs are dropouts.<br /><br />An additional 1,300 had no explanation of what school they were supposedly transferring to or were vaguely listed as going to different states or countries.</p><p>Asked about all this by WBEZ and the BGA, district officials acknowledged problems with the system&rsquo;s accounting, but said they had no plan to go back and adjust the numbers. They insisted the numbers weren&rsquo;t purposely skewed to help Emanuel look better to potential voters.<br /><br />&ldquo;The mayor is absolutely interested in making sure we have accurate data,&rdquo; said John Barker, CPS&rsquo; chief accountability officer.</p><p>Emanuel released a statement late Tuesday that said in part: &ldquo;No one questions the facts: more CPS students are graduating than ever before, those students are more prepared for their futures and we&rsquo;re making huge strides in helping struggling kids graduate.&quot;</p><p>It is unclear when the practice started, but the CPS inspector general found problems at one school, Farragut Career Academy, dating back to 2009. School district officials said they did not know how widespread the problem was until contacted by reporters.<br /><br />Barker said now the district is doing a systemwide audit of what are called verified transfers. He also said school staff has been trained on how to enter information into the system, but as of Tuesday, CPS officials could provide no evidence of such trainings or audits.<br /><br />WBEZ and the BGA attempted to contact several of the principals of the schools whose data we looked at. We tried to reach them through phone calls, e-mails and stops by the schools, but each declined our request for interviews on the subject. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey also refused to make any principals available to talk about this story.<br /><br />It&#39;s not just about graduation rates, said Sheila Venson, executive director of Youth Connection Charter School, a network of more than 20 alternative schools in CPS.<br /><br />&ldquo;We have to get a better handle on (the dropout problem),&rdquo; Venson said. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t get a better handle on it if you&rsquo;re hiding it. If you&rsquo;re not looking at it, you&rsquo;re not even looking at who these kids are.&rdquo;</p><p>Once a student is classified as a transfer, school staff have no reason to try to re-enroll him or her in school or to hand their information to a district re-enrollment center. But Venson points out that schools have no incentive to be honest about the numbers because they are under so much pressure to improve their performance on school rating systems that take into account the graduation rate.<br /><br />McCaffrey acknowledged that the district has a problem, but said officials don&#39;t plan to go back and adjust the rates because of the &ldquo;billion dollar deficit.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Obvious red flags and past problems</span></p><p>For decades, CPS has used a number system to identify where and when students are enrolled. The information is used to determine school funding, and also to track students from grade school to graduation.<br /><br />In examining high school records, WBEZ and the BGA found a number of red flags.</p><p>At Curie Metropolitan High School, the third largest high school in the city, more than 100 students every year since 2011 supposedly transferred out to be homeschooled. Homeschooled students are removed from the graduation rate. But annually, most high schools only listed a handful of students as being homeschooled.<br /><br />Curie Principal Phillip Perry did not respond to phone calls or emails. When reporters stopped by his school, they were not allowed past the front foyer and escorted out by a security guard and a woman who identified herself as a police officer, though she did not have her badge evident and was not in uniform.<br /><br />Students and teachers, however, scoffed at the idea that hundreds of high schoolers were being homeschooled on the Southwest Side of the city.<br /><br />Teacher Marina Kalic said that in her four years at the school she has never once heard of a student leaving to be homeschooled. She points out that most students at the school are low-income.<br /><br />&ldquo;Parents don&rsquo;t have the sources and the funds to homeschool their kids,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;They have to go to work. I&rsquo;ve never heard that.&rdquo;<br /><br />CPS&#39; John Barker said that having so many students labeled as homeschooled raises questions.<br /><br />&ldquo;Is that a concern to us? Yes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Are we interested in following up? Yes. What we are going to need to do is that we are going to intervene as far as take a look at these a lot more seriously.&rdquo;<br /><br />Despite having access to this information for years, district officials said they only just became aware of the misclassifications when CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler started looking into it last year at a particular school. In the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fcps.edu%2FAbout_CPS%2FDepartments%2FDocuments%2FOIG_FY_2014_AnnualReport.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGOKs9u4POI5co9tNLmACTi40_URg" target="_blank">annual report</a> released in January, in a section entitled &ldquo;High School Dropouts Masked as &ldquo;Transfers,&rdquo; Schuler found that an unnamed high school &ldquo;systemically and improperly&rdquo; recorded nearly 300 students over five year as transfers, although internal records show they went to GED programs. That school was later identified as Farragut.<br /><br />&ldquo;Illinois law and policy, however, make it clear that students who leave school to attend a GED program are dropouts and not transfers,&rdquo; Schuler wrote.<br /><br />Another 123 students at this school were labeled as verified transfers, many of them labeled as transferred to Mexico, but student records show the transfer was verified in less than 5 percent of the cases.&nbsp;<br /><br />Schuler then took CPS to task for not disciplining the five employees involved and promoting one of them.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">&lsquo;One of the most complicated, debated and discussed statistics&rsquo;</span><br /><br />The concept of a graduation rate seems pretty simple, but in reality, it is complicated. The state and federal government calculate their rates differently, though based on the same premise as CPS.<br /><br />Barker pointed out that it gets even more complicated in a system of choice like Chicago&rsquo;s. A <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786" target="_blank">WBEZ analysis of CPS data</a> shows that in the Class of 2013, about 16,000 of the districts more than 20,000 graduates started and finished in the same place. More than 4,000 switched schools and still graduated, while more than 12,000 dropped out, died, or were labeled &ldquo;out-of-district transfers.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;The graduation rate is one of the most complicated, debated and discussed statistics in all of K-12 education,&rdquo; Barker said. &ldquo;Go in for four years, get out with a diploma, doesn&rsquo;t take into account all of the complicated factors of student mobility in a district like ours.&rdquo;<br /><br />In Illinois, the issue became even more complex when state lawmakers changed the compulsory age from 16 to 17 in 2004.&nbsp; The idea was that schools would have to hang onto students for longer.<br /><br />Some time around then, the CPS system changed so that students were no longer labeled in the computer system as dropouts. Instead, they are supposed to be labeled as &ldquo;unable to locate&rdquo; or &ldquo;consent to withdraw.&rdquo;<br /><br />Venson said this creates all sorts of confusion: &ldquo;What&rsquo;s a dropout? Is it a chronic truant? Is it someone with 20 or more absences? 30 or 40 more absences? Is that a dropout? Is a dropout somebody who formally withdraws?&rdquo;<br /><br />When WBEZ and the BGA asked about the questionable practices around the graduation rate, McCaffrey and Barker continued to point to the future. They said this year, CPS is going to completely redo the way it calculates graduation rates. As of Tuesday, they had not yet provided any details about the new formula. But McCaffrey says district officials are confident that it will result in an even higher graduation rate than in the past.<br /><br />Barker said the district may also reformat the computer system to prevent clerks from entering in transfer codes unless they have documentation.</p><p>This is not the first time Emanuel&rsquo;s administration has come under fire for doctoring figures. <em>Chicago Magazine</em> found that <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/May-2014/Chicago-crime-rates/" target="_blank">dozens of crimes were misclassified</a> or made to vanish altogether.</p><p>Larry Lesser, an associate professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Texas-El Paso, noted that statistics can easily be manipulated to say what people want. In cases where the underlying information is wrong, the agency needs to make sure that people understand how they should report things, mathematicians need to be on review committees and standards need to be enforced.<br /><br />&ldquo;Ultimately,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo; it becomes a question of politics.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation" target="_blank">@WBEZeducation</a>. Sarah Karp is a reporter for the <a href="http://www.bettergov.org/" target="_blank">Better Government Association</a>. You can follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/sskedreporter" target="_blank">@SSKedreporter</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 10 Jun 2015 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-touts-bogus-graduation-rate-112163 Behind CPS graduation rates, a system of musical chairs http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/grad rate thumb.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Hidden beneath Chicago&rsquo;s record-high graduation rate is a surprising fact: High schools still have a lot of trouble holding on to students.<br /><br />A WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago analysis of graduation numbers for every high school in the city shows how many freshmen stayed through graduation day, how many dropped out and how many finished at other schools&mdash;including alternative schools.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Map: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786#map">Which schools hang onto the most freshmen?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Half of all CPS high schools saw at least half of the Class of 2013 transfer to other schools between freshman and senior years.</p><p>CPS officials say the school system encourages students and families to choose where they want to go to high school, and that includes transferring after freshman year.</p><p>It&rsquo;s also the first time the public has been able to compare freshman retention rates at charter schools versus district-run high schools, because in the past charters reported transfers, while other schools reported mobility. The common perception was that charters were weeding out students who weren&rsquo;t doing well, but the numbers were an apples-to-oranges comparison.&nbsp; In fact, data show wide variation across all school types.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Graduation rates vs. freshman retention</span><br /><br />The data raises an important question: How can schools lose so many students and still report high graduation rates?<br /><br />At their most basic, graduation rates look at the number of students who enroll as freshmen, and calculate the percentage who earn a diploma four years later.<br /><br />&nbsp;Chicago counts students over five years to include students who take a little longer to finish high school.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">Chicago expands use of alternative schools</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Chicago also counts students back at their home school. If a student&nbsp; transfers from School A to School B, but still graduates, School A gets credit. Researchers say it&rsquo;s best to track the same students over time.<a name="video"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="465" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/i0EibDr47gc" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>Map created&nbsp;</em><em>by Simran Khosla</em></p><p>Kenwood Academy is a good example of how students move throughout the system. In 2009, 439 freshman walked through the doors of the school. Sixty-six left the city or moved out of state, leaving 393 still enrolled. Over five years, 54 dropped out and 317 graduated. CPS divides 317 by 393 for an official graduation rate of 85 percent.<br /><br />But beneath those numbers, WBEZ and Catalyst found additional movement. Not all 317 graduated at Kenwood; 276 from the original freshman class did, while 12 finished at other CPS schools and 29 earned their diploma at alternative schools. Kenwood also helped other schools&rsquo; graduation rates by enrolling and graduating 30 students who initially enrolled as freshmen at other schools.<br /><br />Kenwood Principal Gregory Jones said the movement at his school is not atypical in an urban district with so many choices.<br /><br />&ldquo;But mostly, Kenwood kids stay at Kenwood,&rdquo; Jones said.<br /><br />John Easton, a distinguished fellow at the Spencer Foundation, said CPS has been reporting graduation rates more honestly and fairly for decades, following the same students from freshman year, rather than senior year, like many others.<br /><br />&ldquo;This whole calculating graduation rates correctly, using these cohort longitudinal methods where you follow kids over time really started here in Chicago in the mid-80s by a man named Fred Hess,&rdquo; Easton said.<br /><br />Easton worked with Hess in the 1980s and spent the decades since at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research and the National Center for Education Statistics. The numbers are no less complicated today than they were then, he said.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/sections/special-series/meet-companies-profit-when-cps-students-drop-out-111665">Meet the companies that profit when CPS students drop out</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;There are dozens of decisions and every single one of those decisions is going to have an implication for what the bottom line number is,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">&lsquo;Dark days&rsquo; to top 20</span><br /><br />In 2007, Noble Street Charter School wasn&rsquo;t doing a very good job keeping its freshmen.<br /><br />&ldquo;We certainly weren&rsquo;t actively trying to remove students from our campus, but if a student wanted to transfer or they thought maybe it wasn&rsquo;t the right fit, we were kind of like, &lsquo;OK. Godspeed,&rsquo;&rdquo; said Principal Ellen Metz, who was the dean of students at the time.<br /><br />Metz said that was clearly the wrong approach. Of that first freshman class, just 72 of 132 made it to graduation day.&nbsp;<br /><br />As is true for freshmen at all CPS high schools, freshman who leave and graduate from another school are still counted in Noble&rsquo;s graduation rate. But even so, Metz argues, the best way to make sure students don&rsquo;t drop out is to keep them in the building.<br /><br />&ldquo;If a student ever suggests they want to transfer, we call that the T-word and it&rsquo;s considered almost like &lsquo;a swear&rsquo; here at our campus,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s something that you don&rsquo;t say.&rdquo;<br /><br />Since 2007, Noble&rsquo;s flagship campus has become somewhat obsessed with holding on to its students. The numbers for the Class of 2013 show Noble&rsquo;s flagship campus kept almost 80 percent of the original freshmen. That&rsquo;s better than all but 12 other Chicago public high schools.<br /><br />Freshman Avonjae Dickson used the &ldquo;t-word&rdquo; all the time last fall.<br /><br />&ldquo;I chose a lot of schools and since I was late turning in my papers, I eventually had to come here, but I wanted to go to Lincoln Park,&rdquo; Dickson said.<br /><br />Metz said Dickson is slowly coming around.<br /><br />&ldquo;She&rsquo;s sort of acknowledging, she&rsquo;s starting to see, maybe I do like this,&rsquo;&rdquo; Metz said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a classic example why freshman year is so critical. We also could have, in the fall, when she was speaking that way, we could have said, &lsquo;You know, maybe you&rsquo;re right, maybe this isn&rsquo;t the right fit, if you don&rsquo;t like it.&rsquo;&rdquo;<br /><br />Other Noble schools struggle to keep freshmen, but only one campus, Rowe-Clark, lost more than half of the Class of 2013. Twenty of the city&rsquo;s neighborhood high schools struggle the most, holding on to fewer than 35 percent of the original freshmen. All are on the South and West sides.<br /><br />Among charters, Urban Prep&rsquo;s two campuses do the worst. Chief Academic Officer Lionel Allen said the data &ldquo;unfairly paints a very dismal picture of the work (they&rsquo;re) doing at Urban Prep.&rdquo;<br /><br />He said it&rsquo;s important to note that Urban Prep serves primarily African American males. Nationally, that subgroup has some of the lowest graduation rates. Allen said he is also concerned that there are discrepancies between the numbers they track internally and those being reported by CPS.<br /><br />Even so, he added, &ldquo;we absolutely need to do a better job.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We would love to hold on to all of our freshmen,&rdquo; Allen said.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A (second) choice</span></p><p>In a system of choice, where students don&rsquo;t have to go to the school nearest to their house, it might seem that there would be no mobility. For the most sought after high schools, that seems to be the case.</p><p>Of the top 10 schools holding on to the largest percentage of the Class of 2013, six are selective enrollment. ChiArts, Lakeview, Prosser and Spry are the others.</p><p>But for the rest of the system, a remarkable number of students are transferring between their freshman and senior years. About 16,000 of the more than 20,000 graduates in the Class of 2013 started and finished in the same place.</p><p>Easton of the Spencer Foundation said the fact that about 4,000 students are still graduating after transferring is actually encouraging.</p><p>&ldquo;Previous research had suggested that a transfer of high school students was sort of a danger sign,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That meant they hadn&rsquo;t done very well and were trying to find another place so they were perhaps on a path to dropping out. So I find it very encouraging that many of these transfer students are graduating. Of course, the thing that you worry about is the quality of the program they&rsquo;re going into.&rdquo;</p><p>Of the roughly 4,000 students who transferred and still graduated, 1,200 actually finished at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/same-diploma-different-school-111581">alternative schools</a>, while just 59 transferred into the city&rsquo;s sought after selective enrollment high schools.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>. Additional reporting by Chris Hagan, WBEZ web producer.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Support for this story was provided by Front and Center, funded by The Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.&nbsp;</em></p><p><a name="map"></a><iframe frameborder="0" height="820" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/MAPS/graduationratemap/GraduationRateMap.html" style="float: right; clear: right;" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-cps-graduation-rates-system-musical-chairs-111786 Study: High school grad rate highest since '76 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-high-school-grad-rate-highest-76-105066 <p><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; The nation&#39;s high school graduation rate is the highest since 1976, but more than a fifth of students are still failing to get their diploma in four years, the Education Department said in a study released Tuesday.</p><p>Officials said the steady rise of students completing their education is a reflection of the struggling economy and a greater competition for new jobs.</p><p>&quot;If you drop out of high school, how many good jobs are there out there for you? None. That wasn&#39;t true 10 or 15 years ago,&quot; Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.</p><p>The national dropout rate was about 3 percent overall, down from the year before. Many students who don&#39;t receive their diplomas in four years stay in school, taking five years or more to finish their coursework.</p><p>Some 3.1 million students nationwide earned their high school diplomas in the spring of 2010, with 78 percent of students finishing on time. That&#39;s the best since a 75 percent on-time graduation rate during the 1975-76 academic year.</p><p>The only better rate was 79 percent in 1969-70, a figure the department wouldn&#39;t vouch for.</p><p>There were tremendous differences among the states in 2010. Fifty-eight percent of students in Nevada and 60 percent in Washington, D.C., completed their high school education in four years. By comparison, 91 percent of students in Wisconsin and Vermont did, according to the report.</p><p>Graduation rates increased by more than a percentage point in 38 states between 2009 and 2010, the study found. Only the District of Columbia saw its graduation rates decline between by greater than a percentage point during those years.</p><p>Among the most significant factors of the increase was the dire U.S. economy after the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. During the 2009-10 academic year, unemployment ranged from 9.4 percent to 10 percent.</p><p>&quot;When I grew up on the South Side of Chicago it wasn&#39;t great, but I had lots of friends who dropped out and they could go work in the stockyards or steel mills and they could buy a home, support a family, do OK,&quot; Duncan said.</p><p>But those jobs are gone and won&#39;t come back, he said.</p><p>California, the nation&#39;s largest public school system by enrollment, led the nation in new graduates in 2010, turning out almost 405,000. It also produced the most dropouts: almost 93,000. That translated to a rate of about 5 percent, above the national average.</p><p>During the 2009-10 academic year, some 514,000 students dropped out of high school nationwide. Still, the rate declined from 4 percent during the seven previous academic years, when data was sometimes incomplete or represented averages of states that reported figures.</p><p>Nationally, students were most likely to drop out of high school during their senior year, with roughly one in 20 quitting before graduation day. In every state, males were more likely to drop out.</p><p>Arizona had the highest dropout rate, at 8 percent, followed by Mississippi at 7 percent. Washington, D.C., schools also posted a 7 percent dropout rate, the Education Department projected based on previous years&#39; reporting.</p><p>Mississippi, New Mexico and Wyoming had dropout rates rise more than one percentage point, while Delaware, Illinois and Louisiana saw noticeable decreases. Delaware dropped from about 5 percent to 4 percent. Illinois dropped from roughly 12 percent to 3 percent. And Louisiana dropped from 7 percent to 5 percent.</p><p>&quot;The trends are hopeful but our high school dropout rate is still unsustainably high and it&#39;s untenable in many of our African-American and Latino communities. We have a long way to go here,&quot; Duncan said.</p><p>Nationally, white and Asian and Pacific Islander students were among the least likely to leave school without a degree, with only 2 percent dropout rates. Hispanic students posted a 5 percent dropout rate, followed by blacks at 6 percent and American Indians and Alaska Natives at 7 percent.</p><p>&quot;There&#39;s no young person who aspires to be a high school dropout,&quot; Duncan said. &quot;When someone drops out, it&#39;s a symptom of a problem. It&#39;s not the problem itself. Something has gone radically wrong.&quot;</p></p> Tue, 22 Jan 2013 09:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-high-school-grad-rate-highest-76-105066 More Chicago City Colleges degrees being awarded http://www.wbez.org/news/education/more-chicago-city-colleges-degrees-being-awarded-98538 <p><p>The City Colleges of Chicago will be graduating hundreds more students this year, compared to last year.</p><p>Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said Tuesday the 3,300 associate degrees being handed out this year is the highest number in over a decade. That compares to 2,500 degrees earned last year.</p><p><a href="http://trib.in/ICQ8mC">The Chicago <em>Tribune</em> reports</a> that in her speech to the City Club of Chicago, Hyman said college leaders are confident the upward trend in the awarding of degrees will continue.</p><p>The city college system serves about 120,000 students at seven colleges. Hyman has been promoting a "reinvention" of the colleges by increasing the number of advisers to students.</p><p>The colleges have also partnered with businesses in the health care and transportation fields to help students move from the classroom to the workforce.</p></p> Wed, 25 Apr 2012 10:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/education/more-chicago-city-colleges-degrees-being-awarded-98538