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New Jersey's High School Graduation Rates Drop

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The New Jersey Department of Education Tuesday released 2011 graduation rates for high schools that were largely lower, in some cases significantly lower, than prior years.

Statewide, the rate calculated using the “four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate” formula now required by the federal government was 83 percent for last spring’s high school seniors. For the Class of 2010, the graduation rate -- largely self-reported by schools -- was 94.7 percent for New Jersey.

Last year, nine of the state’s 392 schools had perfect graduation rates. That’s almost 90 percent fewer than the 82 schools that reported all seniors had graduated in 2010. Similarly, four schools reported that fewer than half of students graduated in 2010, while last year, that number had risen to a dozen.

“As we look at these new graduation rates across the state, the question we must continue to ask ourselves is not only whether students are graduating from high school, but whether we are truly preparing them to be ready for the demands of the 21st century,” said Christopher Cerf, the state’s acting education commissioner. “We continue to be among the leaders in the nation, but we can still do more to make sure every child, regardless of zip code, has an equal opportunity in life.”

Because this is the first year New Jersey is using the new methodology to calculate the graduation rate, direct comparisons to previous year’s rates are not possible.

But looking at the 2010 rates for individual districts shows what a difference the new formula makes.

For instance, Lodi in Bergen County reported a 94 percent graduation rate in 2010. Last year, as calculated by the new formula, that rate was 78 percent.

Met East High School in Camden had a 76 percent graduation rate last year, compared with 100 percent reported for the prior year.

Piscataway High School had an 88 percent passing rate in 2011 and a 97 percent rate in 2010.

Some school officials maintained that at least some of the data released by the DOE is inaccurate.

The NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools released a statement on its website asserting that more than a third of the state’s vocational-technical school districts have found errors in the data. The group is seeking corrections.

“In some cases, the graduation rates reported are based on a small cohort of students in a specialized program, not the entire school population and the reported rates are misleading and inaccurate,” according to the group’s statement. “In other cases, the errors are caused by inaccurate coding of student records by the local districts that send students to the vocational school. Some errors are inexplicable, such as the high performing school with a reported graduation rate of zero.”

The last instance is the Union County Magnet High School, part of the county vocational district, which has had perfect passing percentages on the state’s graduation tests in at least the last three years and reported perfect graduation rates in 2009 and 2010. Its total enrollment is less than 300.

“We have worked collaboratively with districts during this monumental shift, from trainings throughout the state, to working with several hundred districts individually, and through 7,000 data appeals in the fall,” said Justin Barra, a DOE spokesman. “As we all adjust to this new process of tracking and reporting students, we will continue to work together with districts to address data concerns.”

The new formula calculates the graduation rate for the senior class by using the entering 9th grade class as a baseline and considers transfers throughout the four years.

NJ Spotlight is an online news service providing insight and information on issues critical to New Jersey, with the aim of informing and engaging the state’s communities and businesses. Read more From New Jersey Spotlight.