Paige Announces Expert Panel to Review High School Dropout and Graduation Rates

December 19, 2003

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige today announced the awarding of a contract to the National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS) to convene a group of experts to review the methods for reporting high school dropouts and on-time graduates. The work will be supported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the research arm of the department.

"There is no question that we must focus our efforts on helping students graduate from high school," Secretary Paige said. "One of the first things we need to do is look at the varying definitions, standards and tracking systems throughout the country to gain a better understanding of the problem so that we can tackle it head-on. I know that the experts on this panel will help us do that, and I look forward to their report."

Individuals ranging from research experts in the field to concerned parents have raised questions about the quality and usability of statistics on high school dropouts and completions. One problem is the comparison of disparate populations.

For example, the number of diplomas awarded represents only about two-thirds of the ninth-graders who entered public schools four years earlier, yet approximately 85 percent of the 18- to 24-year-old population has a high school credential. Another problem is that there may be substantial differences among states in the definition of a dropout, and no hard data about whether, or how much, schools and districts vary in applying state definitions to determine whether a child has dropped out, is chronically truant or has moved to another state.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has refocused attention on official statistics about high school outcomes, making the work of the panel especially important. In particular, provisions of NCLB require that public school districts be held accountable for graduating students on time. Currently data collection and reporting systems are not in place in most states to directly track students through their grade-to-grade progression or their movement in and out of schools. Different calculations have been developed that rely on data not designed for this purpose.

The National Center for Education Statistics uses both household surveys and data collected by the states to report on high school dropouts and completers. Independent researchers have obtained different results, using different methods.

The expert review will consider the uses of graduation and related statistics, review existing rates and the data that underlie them, examine concerns that have been raised about existing measures and make recommendations for improving data collection and estimation procedures.

Experts selected by NISS, an independent statistical research organization, include statisticians, policy researchers and government officials. The experts are:

Barbara Bailor, former senior vice president of the National Opinion Research Center
Duncan Chaplin, Urban Institute
John Easton, director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research
Bobby Franklin, director of Planning, Analysis, and Information Resources for the Louisiana Department of Education
Jay Greene, Manhattan Institute
Robert Hauser, University of Wisconsin
Patricia Harvey, superintendent of the St. Paul School District in Minnesota
Janet Norwood, former director of the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Russell Rumberger, University of California at Santa Barbara.
The group is scheduled to first meet in mid-January and will begin with an overview of reporting needs at the federal, state and local levels, current data collected and concerns raised about existing statistics. An interim report from NISS is expected to be ready in the spring of 2004 to suggest future directions for improving measures of dropouts and graduates.