New Calculation of Graduation Rates on State Report Card Doesn't Add Up

July 12, 2012
Cleveland Heights, OH

When you hear about high school graduation rates, what do you think they measure?  The number of students in the 12th grade who finish their required courses plus the few brainiacs who graduate early, right?  The U.S. Department of Education has redefined “graduation rate” on state Report Cards (starting with the 2011-12 school year) to measure how many 9th graders finish their high school studies in four years or less. This change will dramatically reduce graduation rates for many high schools. Ohio schools with graduation rates below 90% do not meet the graduation rate indicator on the State Report Card. Graduation rates will look even lower for schools with high numbers of special needs students, transfer students who are missing credits, students with health issues or with families facing poverty, mental illness, or addiction.  Administrators in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District are concerned that this new measure of graduation rate does not reflect the quality of education it offers its students.

Previously, a student was counted as a graduate in the year the diploma was awarded regardless of the number of years since s/he began 9th grade.  Students who needed to retake required courses to receive a passing grade, or missed significant class time due to illness or injury, or had low attendance due to family issues could take an extra year to finish their coursework and earn a diploma.  

Now, even students with disabilities are counted like all other graduates. If they finish within four years, they are counted as graduates. All others are counted as non-graduates. “Basically, if a student does not finish in four years, in the new graduation rate, they will never count as a graduate since they were a non-grad in their cohort” explained Sharon Drazdik, Education Management Information System Coordinator for the CH-UH City School district.

While special needs students can take Alternative Assessments in place of the Ohio Achievement Assessment (for students in grades 3-8) or the Ohio Graduation test (for students in grade 10) to show progress and graduate, only 1% of a school district’s test results based on Alternative Assessments can be counted on the State Report Card. The rule aims to prevent schools from abusing alternative assessments by issuing them to students who should be taking the general test. CH-UH City Schools Superintendent Douglas Heuer believes this limitation does not give an accurate picture of his students. “Our statistics tell us we are very successful when it comes to educating our special needs students, but not according to the standards the state is measuring on its report card. Every test beyond the 1% counts as a failure and ends up penalizing the district, especially when those students are scoring at the highest achievement levels.”

This change in the State Report Cards seems to favor districts with minimal challenges, wealthier populations, and fewer special needs students.  It does not indicate a higher level of school effectiveness nor provide a useful tool for parents to use to determine school quality.

“What should be important is the quality of the education as measured by how well prepared each student is to transition from K-12 to either higher education or a successful career. A specific example is special education, where a student is legally entitled with an IEP to receive services that are appropriate until the age of 22, yet the new standard for graduation penalizes schools that opt to meet the child’s needs as opposed to a 4 year deadline in high school,” added Superintendent Heuer.

Ohio’s State and Local Report Cards released annually in August measure performance of districts and schools in four ways: 26 state indicators drawn from academic tests; Value-Added results, which show whether students meet the expected one year of growth for students in grades 4-8 in reading and math; a Performance Index which looks at the performance of individual students; and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a federally required component that measures achievement of each student subgroup, including racial and ethnic components.  For more information, go to the Ohio Department of Education website at or the U.S Department of Education website at

Submitted by Krista Hawthorne