06/29/05 — A deception: Left behind? No. They’re left out

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A deception: Left behind? No. They’re left out

Ninety-seven percent of North Carolina’s high school students — grades 9 through 12 — are graduating! These are the figures for the 2002-2003 school years.

That was the best record of any school in the nation as recorded in the annals of the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind initiative.

It not only was gratifying to North Carolinians who do not often see their public education ranking in the upper reaches of the scale; it was astounding.

And figures don’t lie.

Unless, of course, someone has been “cooking the books.”

For the second year, The Education Trust says something akin to that has been happening.

The challenge is for schools to begin monitoring students at the ninth-grade level and then show how many receive their high school diplomas four years later.

North Carolina’s school system counted its 12th-grade graduates and found that 97 percent of them had received their diplomas after four years of high school. Presumably the other 3 percent had repeated a high school grade or two.

But wait. What about those high schoolers who dropped out before graduation?

The Education Trust, a national watchdog group, said that had those students been included, North Carolina’s record would have shown that only 64 percent of the students graduated. And that, apparently, was how other schools across the country were measuring their records under the No Child Left Behind program.

North Carolina school officials say it is a matter of definition and they chose a “graduation-rate definition they could ascertain and report,” according to one news report.

That system has been used, they explained, because they didn’t have “the capacity to calculate” the percentage of graduates otherwise. They figure they will be able to have that capacity in 2006.

It certainly would not seem overly challenging to count the names of the ninth-grade students and then compare them with those graduating four years later.

The North Carolina approach appears to ignore the very people the No Child Left Behind effort is supposed to target. It not only leaves them behind, it leaves them out altogether.

Results of the system we have been using made us feel good. But it was a deception. And it flies in the face of our state motto: Esse Quam Videri — To Be Rather Than to Seem.

Published in Editorials on June 29, 2005 11:06 AM