Utah education officials finally entered the realm of reality by revising how they figure the state's high school graduation rate. They are no longer insisting, despite evidence to the contrary, that Utah public schools are sending 90 percent of their students out into the world with diplomas.
Furthermore, for 2009, using the more realistic formula mandated by the federal government, Utah educators can cite an undeniably improving graduation rate. No one can argue that is anything but good news.
The Education Week report called Diplomas Count shows Utah's high school graduation rate at 78.4 percent in 2009, an increase of 6.5 percentage points over the previous year.
The mandated formula tracks students from ninth grade through the 12th. Utah previously started tracking at 10th grade, ignoring the sadly significant number of ninth-graders who never returned for the 10th grade, among them an alarming number of Latino students.
Education Week begins tracking the classes within each school, beginning at ninth grade.
Last year when Education Week reported Utah's graduation rate at 71.9 percent in 2008, which represented the second-largest decrease in the nation year-over-year and ranked Utah 30th among the states, the state office disputed the number. Its data painted a much different picture.
According to the state's research, which tracked individual students from 10th through 12th grade, Utah's graduation rate was 90 percent in '08, an increase from the 88 percent mark it had maintained for several previous years.
But a jump from 30th to 10th place, using the method of figuring the rate that is accepted by statisticians and now used by all the states, is significant.
Still, while the percentage of students who graduate appears to be moving in the right direction, at least for the time period reported, it would be wrong to be complacent. The other side of the 2009 graduation coin is that 21.6 percent of Utah students are dropping out or not tallying enough credits in their four years of high school to earn a diploma.
Making up a good share of those who will face a highly technical world without a basic education are Latino students. The dropout rate for this group is about 50 percent, and that is inexcusable.
So-called minority students will soon outnumber whites, who are still considered the benchmark for achievement in Utah schools. Politicians who want to starve and then privatize public schools are doing these students a disservice, and that will come back to bite all of us eventually.
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