A new study of states’ ESEA waiver plans reveals that some states are side-stepping graduation rate requirements by reporting the data, but not including it in their accountability systems.
As a result, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, many of the ESEA waivers granted by the Department of Education contradict the 2008 graduation rate regulations that the Department created.
The 2008 regulation requires all public high schools to use the same graduation rate calculation and then to report both the rates for individual student subgroups and the rate for the entire student body. States must also use an accurate graduation rate known as the four-year adjusted cohort rate, which represents the percentage of students who enter ninth grade and graduate with a regular, four-year diploma.
Waivers, which include graduation rates, allow states to create their own accountability plans. Although each waiver’s approach to accountability has been different, the Department of Education still requires that all states calculate and report graduation rates in accordance with the 2008 regulations. However, only a few states are implementing the 2008 graduation rate regulations for accountability purposes as well. The Alliance report emphasizes that reporting is not the same as accountability.
While some waiver plans have shown enormous potential, other approved plans are not as aggressive. According to the Alliance, 11 states have been approved to use a measure of high school completion that is inconsistent with the requirements of the 2008 regulations, including using GED completion and dropout rates—a weaker form of graduation rate calculation—as part of their accountability systems. Also, some states used the waiver flexibility to set graduation rate goals as low as 50 percent and required an annual improvement increase as small as 0.1 percentage points.
To ensure the United States is moving toward a goal of holding schools accountable for how many students they graduate, the Alliance recommends a system of accountability where graduation rates and test scores are weighted equally.
As we move into the implementation phase of the ESEA waivers, we need to closely watch the progress of states’ performance, including whether or not they are following through with their intended plans. While leaving accountability up to the states opens the door for innovation, we must be careful not to lose sight of our national goal of raising achievement for all students.
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