Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to count and compare

The bottom line of this rant is that being ranked 4th out of 16 in graduation rates is perfectly respectable, but it is misleading to present this in a way would lead people to infer a ranking of 4th out of 51.

I've complained before that there is often no good way to compare education results from state to state. And I've stated my suspicion that this is deliberate.

Some good news is that Texas is joining an effort to provide comparable information on graduation rates, even though the state is ducking out of an effort to develop ways to compare student performance. And this is summarized in a report (PDF) titled, The National Governors Association Compact Rate: A Comprehensive Approach to Improved Accuracy and Consistency in High School Graduation Rates. This report extolls the virtues of having a consistent measure that allows one state's results to be compared with another. I wish that the people, (well Governor Perry) who want to withdraw from efforts to have comparable data for student achievement would apply the same thinking that they've used for reporting graduation rates.

If anyone doubts that politicians and officials try to spin results to make things look good for them, it is instructive to read the one sentence announcement of the graduation report on the TEA website.

A new report shows Texas has the fourth highest graduation rate among states using National Governors Association methodology.

Reading that announcement you might think that Texas ranked 4th out of 51 (50 states, plus the District of Columbia). This would certainly put a very positive light on Texas education. You have to read through the report to find so far only 16 states are using this measure; so Texas ranks a respectable 4th out of 16 instead of the implicated 4th out of 51.

Note that the announcement is perfectly true. But without including the fact that only 16 states were involved instead of 50, it invites readers to draw an incorrect conclusion.

I applaud the effort to provide a consistent metric for calculating graduation rates across states. And I am gratified that Texas does well among the 16 states that have reported this way. (More states are coming on board according to the report.). More transparent reporting is in the public interest. Now let's do this (as most other states are committed to) for achievement as well.

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