News and Tribune

January 21, 2010

HARBESON: It’s time to get deeper with graduation numbers

By DEBBIE HARBESON

If you were a business owner with eight stores and only two of them reached your minimum sales goal for the year, would you say it was a success?

What if you were in charge of a walking program created to help people complete a fitness walk and two out of eight people who participated reached the mileage goal, would you consider your program a success?

If you were a football coach and your record was 2-8, would you consider that season a success? I mean, if you’re not IU of course.

No matter how you look at it, two out of eight just doesn’t sound so great, does it? Yet this is how many Clark County public high schools reached Indiana’s 90 percent graduation rate goal. I have no idea whether that goal is reasonable or not, but government officials are the ones who set it so I assume they think it’s within reach.

So what does it mean that most of the county’s schools didn’t make the grade? Is it just a number to add to all the other numbers that really don’t mean much because they are without consequences?

Even one school who reached the goal doesn’t feel like the percentage really tells them what they need to know. Before the official graduation rate was released from the State Department of Education, Clarksville officials said their reported graduation rate of 92.6 percent doesn’t “reveal the whole truth.”

Clarksville officials felt it was important to separate out two categories included in the percentage: those who graduated on waivers and those who transferred to homeschooling.

A student who graduates with a waiver has enough credits to graduate but did not pass the State Graduation Qualifying Exam. Teachers in the subject area the student failed on the exam can certify the student as qualified in that subject.

Clarksville realizes the potential for abuse here and evidently wants to take a closer look, which sounds like a good idea. Clarksville also decided to pull out the percentage of students who transferred to homeschooling because they worry that some families might be using the ability to transfer to the home education as a way to drop out.

However, the real potential for abuse here is that a school will create what’s known as a “push-out,” a student whose family is “strongly encouraged” to homeschool because it’s an easy way for the school system to raise its graduation percentage.

It’s important to remember here that the problem isn’t homeschooling; the problem is how the government schools should count the kids they are failing to graduate. Families should voluntarily choose homeschooling as an alternative and not be pushed into it by school officials trying to improve their statistics and remove perceived troublemakers.

It’s unconscionable if homeschoolers get stuck in the middle of what is really a government school problem and I could say more about this issue, but for now, I do think it’s a reasonable idea for all schools in the county to be as open as Clarksville has been about their graduation percentage data.

So I challenge all the principals and superintendents in Greater Clark and West Clark school districts to give residents the same data Clarksville did.

What percentage of your kids graduated on waivers? Are you also doing what Clarksville is doing, and counting as homeschoolers some students you suspect should really be considered as dropouts?

If Clarksville — one of only two schools who actually reached the graduation rate goal — believes it’s important to inform the public with deeper data, shouldn’t those of you who failed to reach the goal do the same?

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson suspects two out of the eight IU football fans will be mad because she made fun of the team’s record. Write her at debbie@debbieharbeson.com