July 30, 2008
Dear Board Members:
In the July 13, 2008, edition of The Sun Sunday, President Hess is quoted as saying “With CSSRP, our graduation rates have increased, our dropout rates have decreased, our HSA scores have gone up.” I was curious about the validity of that statement, especially regarding the dropout rate and the graduation rate, so I have been spending some time with the data at www.mdreportcard.org. I gave extra attention to the data for special education students and for African American students.
I should note that we have data for only one year of CSSRP (2007), even though the program has been in place for two years. The data for 2008 will not be reported for several weeks. While I found tables related to the dropout and graduation rates in the appendices to the report of your external reviewers (also from www.mdreportcard.org), I was unable to find any other mention of this information in their report.
The data for dropout rates is somewhat mixed, especially when one compares the dropout rate for 2007 with the average dropout rate for the previous four years. Compared to this four-year average, the 2007 dropout rate is greater for five high schools as well as for the entire county. The 2007 dropout rate for special education students is also greater than the four-year average for the county overall and for seven high schools.
My genuine concern is with graduation rates. When comparing the 2006 and 2007 graduation rates (before and after CSSRP) for all students, it appears the rate is improving. But when one looks at the graduation rate for special education students, one finds a significant decline in the county and in every high school but one. The same is true for African American students. (I should note, also, that several schools have outstanding rates of graduation and minimal numbers of drop outs. In particular, Harford Technical High School has consistently impressive results.)
I must share a related observation. When the state calculates graduation rates, the number of students who should have been eligible for graduation is determined. For special education students, this number is significantly lower in 2007 than in 2006 and than the average of the previous four years. What happened to the special education students?
There are at least two possible explanations for the reduction in the rate of graduation for special education and African American students from 2006 to 2007. Perhaps the numbers are incorrect. Perhaps a mistake was made in the numbers reported by HCPS to the Maryland State Department of Education. Hopefully that is not the case as schools are judged on this information and this is the kind of information that should never be reported incorrectly.
The other possibility is that between 2006 and 2007, something happened in nearly every school that had a negative effect on the ability of special education and African American students to meet their graduation requirements. The only system-wide change of which I am aware is the implementation of the Comprehensive Secondary School Reform Program. It might be worth considering the possibility that the Board has implemented a program that is detrimental to our most challenged students.
I am interested in an explanation for the reduction in the rates of graduation in 2007 for our special education and African American students. I suspect some members of the public would be interested, also. And I am looking forward very much to the state’s publication of the data for 2008.
I have included several tables with graduation and dropout rate information with this letter.
William M. Ekey
c: Members of the Board of Education
Dr. Jacqueline Haas