NJ School Boards Association has a cogent explanation of the new way NJ is calculating graduation rates:
Previously, the graduation rate for a given year was calculated by taking the number of students in a graduating class and dividing that number by the graduating class total plus the number of drop-outs in the class over each of the four preceding years. The methodology was considered flawed, in part because of the under-reporting of drop-outs by some districts. Using this system, last year’s statewide graduation rate was 94.7 percent.
The new methodology tracks students who entered in grade nine and counts how many graduate four years later. If a district can provide documentation that a student transferred out of the school and registered in another New Jersey school or a school in another state, emigrated out of the country, or died, the number of students entering as ninth graders will be adjusted appropriately. The size of the graduating class will then be divided by this figure.
Under this revised methodology – already in place in 34 other states this year and being implemented in all 50 states after that – New Jersey’s graduation rate in 2011 stands at 83 percent.
The drop in graduation rates is clearly the topic of the day: here’s coverage from The Record, The Star-Ledger, NJ Spotlight, The Courier Post, and Press of Atlantic City.) In addition, the Trenton Times reports that Trenton Public Schools has the worst graduation rate in NJ, “with nearly one in two students who started high school in 2007 not receiving a degree last year.”
The Times is also perplexed because “Lakewood High School’s rate increased by nearly 33 percent. The report did not offer any explanation for the huge changes.”
Why did Lakewood High School’s graduation rate go up when just about everyone else’s went down? Simple: the Board and Administration there deliberately reduced its graduation rate in order to qualify for a $6 million School Improvement Grant. Until the upgrade of the DOE’s data base and subsequent recalibrations, it was an easy task to game the system. Not so much any more. Thus, the correction to Lakewood’s numbers.