FARMINGTON – Official graduation rates have dropped significantly for Davis County high school students, though the number of students graduating didn’t change at all.
What changed was the way those rates are measured.
The graduation rate for Davis School District seniors was 93 percent in 2010. That number changed to 81 percent when a new federal formula replaced the state’s system for calculating graduation rates.
The state figure of 93 percent was calculated using a state formula that counted as graduates students receiving basic high school or adult education diplomas.
It also included students who received alternative diplomas or completion certificates, who received GEDs or who aged out of the special education program as graduates.
Under the new federal designation, students in the last four categories: those with alternative diplomas, completion certificates, GEDs or no longer in district special education programs, are considered dropouts.
Both systems exclude students who transfer to other schools and consider those who are expelled, who withdraw or have graduation pending as dropouts.
The state measurement excluded altogether students who transferred to higher education programs such as applied technology schools, college or adult education programs. The state also excluded seniors, such as those in special education, who are retained for another year.
In the federal calculation, those transferred and retained students are considered dropouts.
“The two formulas are fundamentally different in the way they identify students,” said Dr. Logan Toone, director of assessment for the district, in a statement presented to board members on Tuesday.
“These differences have caused confusion for educators and community members as they examine the publicly released graduation rates over time.”
The new measurement is certain to change how schools track students, said Dan Linford, principal at Viewmont High.
“I’m seeing a handful of students who I know went on to other programs and college but because we coded them as just withdrawals they were considered dropouts” using the federal model, he said.
Whether people agree or disagree with the system, he said it will ensure schools keep better track of where students are going.
“We really don’t have more funding to track those students,” he said, calling it something of an unfunded mandate.
“The state doesn’t track those who graduated early and go to college so we haven’t tracked those as effectively as what we’re going to need to do.”
Information provided by Toone shows the district’s graduation rate, when calculated under the federal formula, as 82 percent in in 2011.
The graduation rate for 2012, a preliminary figure that has not yet been officially released by the Utah State Office of Education, is 82.8 percent.
When compared to 10 other districts along the Wasatch front, Davis School District came in second to Nebo School District in the preliminary graduation rates. Nebo’s graduation rate in 2012 is listed as 86.5 percent and Murray’s is slightly below Davis’ at 82.7.
Weber School District’s preliminary graduation rate for 2012 is 76.2 percent, Ogden’s is 64.9 percent and Salt Lake School District’s graduation rate is listed as 64.7 percent.
“All comparisons over time should be based on the federal rate so formulaic differences will not lead to false conclusions about trends,” said Toone.
The new formula for measuring graduation rates was required when the Utah State Office of Education received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act through the U.S. Department of Education.
“Almost every state has made similar agreements,” said Toone.