Chicago Public Schools' official high school graduation rate is lower than originally reported, says NPR's Becky Vevea — and the numbers are off because thousands of dropouts were misclassified as transfers. The original rate was reported as 69.4% for 2014, but the official rate was actually 66.3%, officials have announced. CPS revised the graduation rates for each year back to 2011.
At least 2,200 students in 25 district high schools since 2011 had been counted as transfers out of the district, when, in fact, they should have been identified as dropouts, according to records given to WBEZ and the Better Government Association under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
In a project entitled Graduation Rates, NPR Ed's investigation revealed the various ways districts and states responded to the pressure to raise their graduation rates, sometimes through dubious "quick fixes." The earlier, higher reported rates even played a part in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's election, when he boasted the rate as one of his administration's successes.
More than 1,000 students at 25 CPS high schools were mislabeled as having moved to another town or enrolled in private schools. The truth was that these students had dropped out and were attending CPS alternative schools, according to the investigation. Over 600 students were recorded as getting their GEDs, which, says state law, is defined as dropping out.
At Curie Metropolitan High School, over 100 dropouts every year were listed as leaving to be homeschooled and another 1,300 students labeled transfers had no record of attending another school or moving to another state or country.
Although officials acknowledged systemic problems, they did not have plans to adjust the numbers. John Barker, the district's chief of accountability, said all misclassifications were put back into the calculation, according to Vivea.
"So what you're seeing is an adjusted rate that's a little bit lower because you have more students in the denominator," Barker said.
Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said although the errors were problematic, she was still happy with the increase in graduating students.
"The fact that more students have graduated did not change," said Janice Jackson. "Even with the adjusted rate, we have more students as far as the number."
Jackson said the gains were due to "the aggressive expansion of for-profit alternative schools in the city." Many of these schools are half day online programs that allow students to gain a high school diploma in much less time. More of these schools will not be opening in Chicago becaues CPS is in such a financial crisi, but Jackson added that she did not doubt that some principals feel pressure to improve their schools' standing. Jackson said she wants to provide more support instead of calling for more accountability.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said on Thursday that a "statistical error" had been made and that a "relatively minor modification" was needed to recalculate the rates.
"The graduation rate has been consistently rising," Claypool said. "This statistical error obviously reduces the rapidity of that rise, but the trend line is exactly the same."
Juan Perez, Jr., reporting for The Chicago Tribune, writes the graduation rate adjustment comes at the same time that a reliance on data used by schools to communicate strengths, weaknesses, and improvements is growing. The result is sloppy data which the district's inspector general has recognized as a disturbing trend in the past few years.