`Deception' alleged in graduation rates

Md., many other states inflated data given to U.S. agency, study suggests

December 23, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Maryland is among a majority of states that reported suspiciously rosy high school graduation rates this fall under the No Child Left Behind Act, according to an independent analysis released yesterday.

"Many states are passing out rose-colored glasses through which to view inequitable and flawed systems," said Kevin Carey, senior policy analyst at Education Trust, a Washington-based group that conducted the study. "This kind of deception undermines the likelihood of genuine improvement efforts."

On Sept. 1, the deadline for submitting data to the U.S. Department of Education, Maryland reported an 85 percent graduation rate in the 2001-2002 school year, 11 percentage points higher than a calculation by Education Trust.

Maryland's graduation rate is "about in the middle" of states, Carey said.

Under the law, Maryland must make "adequate yearly progress" toward a 90 percent rate by 2013-2014. This fall's figures are considered baseline, with no rewards or penalties attached. "This was an opportunity for states to take stock and look forward," said Carey, but 47 states provided more optimistic statistics on graduation rates than did the study.

The report also said U.S. education officials failed to provide guidance, leadership and enforcement, thus allowing the states to hide the fact that thousands of students - a disproportionate number of them poor, black and Latino - leave school without a diploma.

Gary Heath, Maryland's testing chief, denied any distortion in the figures. "We work with a different set of data provided by local school systems," he said, while the Education Trust received its numbers from a federal agency. "They are working with data collected at another time and place. That there's a discrepancy doesn't surprise me."

Eugene Hickok, acting deputy secretary in the U.S. department, strongly disagreed with the conclusions of the trust, an advocacy group for poor and minority students. "No state has gotten a pass," he said.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige announced last week the convening of a group of experts to look at the graduation and dropout issue. Paige was superintendent of schools in Houston, where very high graduation rates have been exposed as fraudulent in recent months.

Education Trust also issued a report yesterday documenting "contradictions and inconsistencies" in state-reported data on teacher quality. States were required to submit information on the percentage of "highly qualified" teachers last year. Seven states submitted no figures, while at least 20 "painted a picture that is simply at odds with reality," said the report. The numbers reported, said Education Trust, "border on farce and veer into tragedy."

Wisconsin, for example, reported that virtually all of its teachers were highly qualified. Maryland used teacher licensing - or certification - as the sole standard for highly qualified, reporting that 65 percent overall and 47 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools met the standard.

Under the law, all teachers must be highly qualified by 2005-2006.

The Sun recently analyzed teacher credentials in the Baltimore metropolitan area and found that teachers lacking basic certification were found disproportionately in schools with the lowest state test scores.

"Latest research findings confirm that teachers have a huge influence over student learning," said the report. "They can literally make or break a child's academic progress for years to come. Yet despite this evidence, many young Americans - low-income and minority students disproportionately among them - continue to be taught by inexperienced, ineffective, unqualified teachers."

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