PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University education faculty members question a national report that ranks Washington near the bottom of states in the percentage of high school students who graduate.
 
Citing 2008 figures, the report, Diplomas Count 2011, ranks Washington at 42nd, with a graduation rate of 65.6 percent. That puts Washington behind neighboring states Montana (75.8 percent), Idaho (75.6 percent) and Oregon (72.6 percent).
 
Chart courtesy of Education Week
Professor Tariq Akmal questioned those figures, saying it is difficult to compare states meaningfully because they measure graduation rates in different ways.

 

“It’s not simple and it’s not neat, as states categorize what constitutes a dropout differently and have different expectations for high school graduation,” he said. “To show how this can vary, the National Center for Educational Statistics at the Institute for Educational Sciences offers numbers that differ from both the state of Washington’s reports and the Diplomas Count trend map.”
 
In 2010, Akmal noted, Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction reported that 76.5 percent of students graduated in four years, 82.6 percent within an extended time period.
  
The Diplomas Count report was released Tuesday by the publication Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. It shows a 6 percent national increase in graduation rates between 1998 and 2008. But during that period, the report indicates, Washington graduated 2.2 percent fewer students. It was one of four states where rates have “fallen noticeably.”
 
The Diplomas Count researchers used a complex cumulative promotion index (CPI) method to calculate the percent of public school ninth-graders who will complete high school on time with a regular diploma.
 
Among those concerned about the lack of standardization are the 50 state governors, who in 2005 agreed to a common reliable formula. According to the Graduation Counts Compact report, Washington plans to start reporting figures under that formula this year.
 
Whatever measurement is used, the number of students leaving before graduation is too high, said Dawn Shinew, chair of the WSU Department of Teaching and Learning. She puts part of the blame on decreased state support for schools.
“In the past 10 years, there has been a steady decline of state funding for school and the social services that help students particularly at risk of leaving school—the homeless, minorities, kids from homes with substance abuse,” Shinew said.
 
Shinew objects to the word “dropout” because it shifts blame to the students and away from the society that should be supporting them.
“It really is more ‘pushing out’ than ‘dropping out,’” she said.