Scripps Howard News Service: The high-school graduation rates that states report to the U.S. Department of Education are reassuringly high -- but also very wrong and horribly misleading. So says the Education Trust, a think tank that analyzed the data.
North Carolina, for example, reported a graduation rate of 97 percent. Independent estimates say it is 64 percent.
North Carolina may have been the most egregious example in the survey, but it had plenty of company: 36 states reported graduation rates of 80 percent or better, six of them claiming more than 90 percent.
Independent estimates by outfits like the Urban Institute say the graduation rate -- the percentage of ninth-graders who get a diploma -- is more like 70 percent. The Bush administration says 68 percent. Only 11 states put their graduation rates between 60 percent and 70 percent.
Kati Haycock, director of the Trust, has an explanation for the discrepancy: "rampant dishonesty." And with the greater emphasis and high stakes of achieving certain test scores and meeting certain standards, the pressure will be on educators to, if not cheat, then certainly fudge.
To be fair to the states, there is no uniform, standardized national method of measuring graduation rates. North Carolina excludes dropouts from its figures. Other states improve their figures by such ruses as treating dropouts as transfers.
If the new emphasis on measures of educational progress is to mean anything, there has to be some mechanism that ensures the figures are accurate and honestly arrived at.