|By Dianne Weaver|
Fewer than three in 100 West Virginia public school students dropped out during the 2005-06 school year or 3%, according to statistics issued by the WV Department of Education
Other sources claim the drop-out rate was about 20% or more.
"Three-percent is laughable," said Thomas Ramey, coordinator of Challenge WV, "It is astonishing the numbers the state issues."
Davin White, a staff writer for the Charleston Gazette, says
"West Virginia's calculated rate of high school dropouts varies widely. It all depends on whom you ask."
Officials with the state Department of Education reported a 2.7 percent dropout rate in 2005-06.
Those at the West Virginia Kids Count Fund figured a 17.1 percent rate that year, while other sources claim the rate exceeds 20%.
The Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C., is a national policy and advocacy organization that works to make every child a high school graduate.
Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise currently serves as president.
The alliance says West Virginia graduation rates are misleading, and in part blamed "unreliable dropout data that inflates the graduation rate."
The US Chamber of Commerce, while giving the state F's and D's in most areas of educational achievement, did give the State Department of Education an A in management of data.
Officials with the alliance say that each year more than 6,700 students in West Virginia do not graduate with their peers.
The state department issued a figure cutting that number almost in half.
Nancy Walker, director for the state department's Office of Information Systems, explained how the state calculates the dropout rate, using a system of "corrections."
Margie Hale, director of the Kids Count Fund, said state and federal data "under-reports what's really happening." Hale said she uses the Department of Education's data, but calculates it differently.
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced April 1 that she would make sure all states use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate high school on time, and how many drop out.
"The State Department of Education certainly can't get at the drop-out problem when they use their fuzzy numbers," said Ramey, stating "Challenge WV has been used to fuzzy numbers, about how many kids are on long bus rides in the Mountain State."
Kenna Seal, director of the state Office of Education Performance Audits, said West Virginia does better than some of the other states at calculating dropout rates.
He said other states just use estimates.
State Superintendent Steve Paine and Seal said that Bush's federal No Child Left Behind law took the emphasis off dropout rates and placed it on graduation.
Educators say dropouts from the class of 2007 will cost the state more than $1.7 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes.
Patrick Miller, a research associate affiliated with the study, said, last year West Virginia used a method to count graduation rates in 2004 known as the "Leaver" rate. It allows states
wiggle-room and inflated graduation rates by measuring the number of dropouts as opposed to tracking students who actually finish school.
US Chamber of Commerce, an advocate of No Child Left Behind, says its' state-by-state education report card shows that the U.S. education system is failing and putting America's future competitiveness at risk.
They have been particularly harsh on West Virginia.
West Virginia, despite spending one of the largest amounts per student in the US, is ranked at 43rd in outcome.
The Chamber's Education Report Card gives the state an F for academic achievement and and an F on return on investment.
The state got a D in academic achievement for low-income and minority students.
Their report says the state is not truthful about student proficiency, giving a D.
Other D grades were in post-secondary and workforce readiness and flexibility in management policy.
The state did get a C in rigor of standards and an A in management of data.