Spellings announces NCLB changes

States must change how they calculate graduation rates
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Posted: 8:46 PM- Utah and all other states will soon have to calculate high school graduation rates the same way, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced Tuesday, along with a number of other changes to No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The idea is to make sure states don't use systems that make graduation rates seem higher than they are. Now, many states calculate graduation rates in different ways, making comparisons difficult. Starting in 2010-11, all states will have to calculate graduation rates by dividing the number of students who graduate in four years by the number who started four years earlier minus those who transferred, died or moved out of the country.

The new rules will also require states, districts and schools to break down graduation rates by ethnicity, ability and income levels, and schools will be held accountable for making sure each of those groups meets certain graduation rate goals. Spellings said half of minority students nationwide don't graduate from high school on time.

"For too long, we've allowed this crisis to be hidden and obscured," Spellings said.

High schools that start at the tenth grade - including many Utah schools - will calculate rates using 10th graders instead of ninth graders, the regulations say.

Judy Park, state associate superintendent, said the new requirement won't mean many changes for Utah. Utah recently began assigning students identification numbers so the state could track which individuals graduate and which don't. In 2007, about 88 percent of Utah seniors graduated, according to the Utah Office of Education, which used a formula very similar to what Spellings is mandating.

Utah's largest minority group, Latino students, had a 72 percent graduation rate in 2007.

Andrea Rorrer, director of the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah, said requiring all states to calculate graduation rates the same way will allow state-to-state comparisons and help to pinpoint places that are doing a good job.

"That will assist us in getting a more realistic idea of who's coming into high schools and who's graduating," Rorrer said.

The new graduation rate rules were part of a larger announcement by Spellings on Tuesday about changes to other parts of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

For example, states and school districts will also have to start publishing results of a national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), alongside results of state tests. Only samples of students in Utah take NAEP tests.

The U.S. Department of Education says that will give parents easier access to NAEP results. Park, however, said publishing NAEP results with state and district test results doesn't make sense.

"You just have a few kids from a few schools that participate and it's only the fourth and eighth-grade," Park said. "What meaning does that have for a district if their students didn't even participate on the test?"

The new regulations also require states to monitor tutoring companies and organizations that serve public schools. States must also notify parents if their children qualify for school choice no later than 14 days before the beginning of the school year. Utah schools now often don't notify parents until about a month into the school year because that's how long it takes to get test results back, state officials have said.