BY GINA G. SCALA
New Jersey’s high school graduation rate, once one of the highest in the nation, is failing to sustain the same grades under new federal reporting methods.
Federal data for the Class of 2011, released this week, shows 83 percent of seniors graduating in four years; tying the Garden State with six other states for 12th place. Iowa topped the list with 88 percent.
In New Jersey, the Class of 2010 graduated 95 percent of its classes in four years under the previous reporting method. The two formulas are not comparable, according to the U.S. Department of Education in a statement announcing the new graduation rates.
"By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed," said Arne Duncan, U.S. education secretary, in a statement accompanying the results. "Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready."
Under the new reporting formula, only students who graduate in four years are counted. Students are considered to have dropped out if they leave one district and it cannot be substantiated that they enrolled in another district. Students who may have died during the four years are also counted as dropouts, according to a report in the Bergen Record.
“I’m only concerned when we’re not counting in a consistent, dependable way that allows us to really know what the truth is,” Chris Cerf, state education commissioner, said. “I’m not sure there is any material difference between being in the top 12 versus the top eight. It shows New Jersey is doing extremely well compared to the rest of the nation, and has significant room to improve.”
The District of Columbia has the lowest graduation rate in the nation with just 59 percent of students graduating in four years. The Bureau of Indian Education was slightly better with 61 percent; bested by Nevada by only one percent, according to the federal data. Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico were not included in the rankings data released this week.
Starting with the current school year, graduation rates are slated to play a pivotal role in determining state accountability; even in the state approved for ESEA flexibility, federal education officials said.