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Washington graduation rate inaccurately tracked, lags behind nation

The Washington state high school graduation rates have lagged behind the rest of the nation of late, and a new report suggests that the numbers may be even lower.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education released this year shows 79.4 percent of students graduating on time in 2016-17, falling below the national average of 84.6 percent (at 44th in the nation). But according to a Crosscut report, upwards of 18 of Washington’s 295 public school districts have not complied with data-reporting requirements.

“I read that and thought, “Oh they must be talking about like Twisp or somewhere out in Central Washington or Southeast Washington where there’s always one administrator for 200 kids,” said KIRO Radio’s Feliks Banel. “But no. Four of the big districts that are not doing this data reporting include Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, and Puyallup.”

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The issue appears to centered around students transferring in and out of schools, with schools not always verifying the graduation rates of such students under the mistaken assumption that they automatically graduated.

“What happens is: Say if a kid goes to a Seattle school from ninth grade through eleventh grade then moves away somewhere, they don’t track if that student completes the degree someplace else. These graduation rates could be low, they could be high,” Banel said.

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The issue brings into question the level to which Washington schools are actually being held accountable for students’ success. For co-host John Curley, failures in this type of tracking are not entirely an innocent accident.

“But don’t you think people manipulate those numbers? It’s known as Campbell’s Law — that you can manipulate a metric in order to have it given special attention, you manipulate the test to bring the grades up and then you have a higher graduation rate because everybody’s aiming for 100 percent or 95 percent.”

“Yeah, I think they could manipulate by saying, ‘OK this student moved away, let’s assume he or she actually did graduate,” Banel added.

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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