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Administration Changes To NCLB Include Mandate For Reporting H.S. Dropouts

Citing low high school graduation rates among many students, particularly minorities, the Bush administration on Tuesday outlined plans to hold schools accountable for their performance starting next year and to require the uniform reporting of dropout and completion data by 2013.

While many details of the new system are still pending, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said it is important to hold schools responsible as soon as possible. “Dropouts from the class of 2007 alone will cost our nation more than $300 billion in lost wages, lost taxes and lost productivity,” she said in an address in Detroit about the administrative changes being made to the No Child Left Behind Law.

“Increasing graduation rates by just 5 percent, for male students alone, would save us nearly $8 billion each year in crime-related costs.”

States would use an “interim” method to calculate graduation rates, though Spellings praised an idea proposed by several researchers to compare the number of entering ninth-graders to the number who complete high school four years later. This idea has the backing of advocates such as the National Governors’ Association and Editorial Projects in Education, which recently released a study showing low graduation rates in many U.S. cities.

All states eventually would use the same formula, and the public would receive information both in the aggregate and broken down by race and income level.

The accountability process would begin in the school 2008-’09 year, Spellings said. In order to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB, schools and districts would have to meet a graduation rate goal set by their states.

All states and schools then would move toward a uniform system to document graduation rates beginning in 2013.

Recent studies and anecdotal data show a pattern of inconsistent reporting of graduation rates. In some districts, students must declare themselves as dropouts before they are listed as such. Elsewhere, a student’s promise to take a General Educational Development (GED) at a future date may keep him off the official dropout list.

Spellings said the growing need for students to enroll in some type of post-high school education makes it imperative that the nation increase its graduation rates. Yet only half of Black and Hispanic students graduate on time, she said.

“We cannot afford to waste so much talent and potential. Our country can’t afford it, and our nation can’t afford it,” Spellings said.

To deal with the technical issues involved in this goal, as well as other new changes proposed for No Child Left Behind, the secretary also would create a National Technical Advisory Council to advise states on complex standards and assessment issues.

In a conference call with reporters following her speech, the secretary said the policy would add much more accountability to the K-12 system. “We don’t have much data on dropouts,” she said.

Yet Spellings noted it will be a gradual process until all states can adopt a standard measure of success. “We need to recognize that we’re in a transition between nothing and something,” she added.

Lawmakers recently tried but were unable to pass an updated version of NCLB due to disagreements over how to judge schools and teachers, among other things. Without a renewal, the existing law stands.

The proposed regulations amount to the most comprehensive set of administrative changes she has sought so far. The regulations call for a federal review of every state policy regarding the exclusion of test scores of students in racial groups deemed too small to be statistically significant or so small that student privacy could be jeopardized. Critics say too many kids’ scores are being left aside under these policies.

The regulations also call for school districts to demonstrate that they are doing all they can to notify parents of low-income students in struggling schools that free tutoring is available. If the districts fail to do that, their ability to spend federal funds could be limited under the proposal. The department estimates only 14 percent of eligible students receive tutoring available to them.

An even smaller percentage of kids who are allowed to transfer to higher-performing schools make that switch, in part because they aren’t always informed of vacancies on time. The regulations require schools to publicize open spots at least 14 days before school starts.

The administration is seeking public comments before finalizing the regulations in the fall. Regulations can be overturned by a new administration.

The Associated Press contributed to the story.

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