Thursday, November 21, 2002

Hawaii’s high school
grad rate put at 69%

A state education official
disputes the validity of a study
by a N.Y. think tank

By Susan Essoyan

Public school graduation rates are routinely overstated, and only seven in 10 students in Hawaii -- and the nation as a whole -- actually graduate with their class, according to a report issued today by a nonprofit think tank.

"It's quite different from the number that's been touted by the U.S. Department of Education, 86.5 percent, which they call the high school completion rate," said Jay Greene, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the report. "Our research suggests that we're nowhere near that level."

The study estimated 69 percent of Hawaii students who entered ninth grade in 1996 graduated with their class in 2000, the same figure it came up with as the national average. Graduation rates ranged from a high of 87 percent in New Jersey to a low of 55 percent in Florida.

An official with the state Department of Education disputed the findings and questioned the group's methodology.

The Manhattan Institute is a New York-based think tank that promotes education reform. The group's report excludes students who earn high school equivalency certificates, such as GEDs, because the authors say those students' futures are more likely to resemble those of high school dropouts.

"Our figures conform to the commonsense understanding of graduation," Greene said. "We know how many are entering high school and how many are coming out with degrees, and we made some adjustments for population change."

But the methodology is questionable because it may miss students who leave the state or switch to private schools, said Thomas Gans, acting administrator of the DOE's Evaluation Section.

"They're taking a flying guess," Gans said. "There's only one good way to calculate a graduation rate, and that is to track individual students."

That has not been done so far, but next month, graduation rates will be part of the school-by-school reports issued under the No Child Left Behind Act, he said.

In 2000, 10,400 seniors graduated from public high schools in Hawaii. The DOE estimates the dropout rate for that class at 12.5 percent to 18 percent since the start of ninth grade.

The lower figure is of confirmed dropouts, Gans said, while the higher figure includes students with "unknown outcomes," such as those who have moved but failed to inform their schools.

"That upper limit is a very conservative procedure for counting dropouts," Gans said. "And that just doesn't square with Greene's figures."

The report, "Public School Graduation Rates in the United States," found widely varying graduation rates by ethnic group, with a national average of 79 percent for Asians, 76 percent for whites, 57 percent for American Indians, 55 percent for African Americans and 53 percent for Hispanics.

In Hawaii, however, the study found little ethnic variation, with 70 percent of Asians, 69 percent of whites and 67 percent of Hispanics graduating with their class.

The report did not calculate rates for African Americans and American Indians in Hawaii because there were too to be statistically significant.

Manhattan Institute

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