Michigan’s On-Time Graduation Rate Is Shockingly Low: Report

Published December 1, 2008

A yearly report conducted by Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) has come up with startling new statistics concerning the state’s high school students.

The data, compiled using a new formula, say one-fourth of Michigan’s high school students are not graduating in four years.

CEPI spokesperson Leslee Fritz said the state used to consider a student a graduate if he or she started senior year and earned a diploma at the end of it. The new methodology, called four-year cohort graduation rates, tracks students from ninth through 12th grade.

This “accounts for students who transfer in and out of the district, who leave school permanently, who leave school during one school year and return in another, and for students who are retained in a grade but stay in school and graduate later than their original classmates,” according to the state.

Slow Implementation

Since this is the first set of four-year data, Fritz explained, the reported 25 percent of students not finishing in four years is high. That is because statisticians haven’t yet incorporated the students who have been held back but might still graduate with a diploma.

The new methodology, Fritz said, “is being adopted nationally and meets the requirements of No Child Left Behind.”

Fritz continued, “All 50 governors have signed on, and every state is implementing it. Since we have to track from the first year in high school through, it can’t happen overnight. The spotlight is on four years. [Ultimately], our goal as a state is [for students] to graduate and get a diploma. Whatever the cause may be, we don’t want to give up on a kid.”

Equal Comparisons

But the new measuring system could cause problems, experts say.

Lorie Shane, managing editor of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Michigan Education Report, said, “Critics say this new calculation creates an incentive to push students through the system in four years, even if they genuinely need more time.”

The value of the new formula, Shane said, is that it allows high schools and school districts to compare graduation and dropout rates methodically.

“Do [schools and districts] deliver a solid education to the majority of students in a reasonable amount of time at reasonable expense?” Shane asked. “Certainly parents, students, and taxpayers would like to know if most of the students at their local high school graduate within four years, and if not, why not?”

Still, students don’t fail on their own, Shane notes. She points out there are two ways the low graduation rates can be rectified.

“Teacher quality is a major factor in student achievement, so programs that strengthen teacher quality will ultimately help students,” Shane said.

And, Shane continued, “School choice would allow parents to choose the best setting for their child. The added competition also would likely push conventional public schools to improve.”

Elisha Maldonado ([email protected]) writes from California.