COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Public schools in Ohio saw their graduation rates drop as districts nationwide move to a new federal formula used to calculate who is finishing high school.
The new rates appeared Wednesday on the state's annual report cards . The report shows what academic gains Ohio public schools and districts have made in the 2010-11 school year. It features schools' rankings, as well as their graduation rates, attendance rates and other information.
Several of the state's largest public school districts saw their 2010 graduation rates plummet under the new calculation that's required by federal law.
For instance, Dayton's graduation rate sank to roughly 59 percent under the new formula, compared with just above 84 percent under the current calculation. Cincinnati public schools saw a rate of 60.2 percent graduate using the new formula. That's a drop from about 82 percent using the current method. And Cleveland saw its record-high graduation rate of 62.8 percent fall to 52.2 percent under the new formula.
Most states are required to convert to the new federal calculation this year, but the number won't count as part of federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks until the 2012-13 school year.
Currently, if a student says he's transferring to a new school but never does, he's not counted against the graduation rate. The new formula requires schools to be more vigilant in tracking students who may have transferred or dropped out. It's intended to create uniform reporting of graduation rates.
Janet Walsh, a spokeswoman for Cincinnati's district, said flawed data contributed to its disparity in rates. She said the district found instances where foreign exchange students were counted as dropouts, as were parochial students who took career education classes.
Transient students are harder to track, she said. About 800 students leave the district to go to nearby Kentucky or other states.
"That's why we think that there are regional issues with the new graduation rate that might artificially inflate the number of dropouts for Cincinnati public schools and other districts with high mobility rates near state lines," Walsh said.
Administrators at Dayton and Cleveland schools also said they've identified issues with how data is collected under the new formula, but they remain focused on improving their graduation numbers.
"We have room for improvement no matter which way we calculate," said Eric Gordon, chief executive officer for the Cleveland school district.
Cleveland's graduation rate has hovered in the mid-50s since 1995, he said.
Patrick Gallaway, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the agency plans to work with schools on the challenges they might have in collecting the data under the new formula.
"This is going to be something that's a great tool going forward," Gallaway said. "It's a better accountability of the students."
The state's overall graduation rate for 2010 also slid to 78 percent under the new formula, compared with about 84 percent using the existing method. Neither number was better than the decade-high 86.9 percent in 2007.
Ohio's report card did show some positive gains in other areas.
No district is on academic emergency. Six districts are on academic watch -- three less than the 2009-10 school year. And 2,610 schools were ranked "effective" or "higher," compared to 2,495 the previous year. The highest ranking is "excellent with distinction," the state's version of an A+.
"While we celebrate this progress, our education system and our state will need to make even greater strides to realize a future in which all students graduate from high school fully prepared for further learning or a career," said state superintendent Stan Heffner in a statement.
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