The Kentucky Department of Education will release the latest report on Kentucky's high school graduation rate this week, and officials say the numbers will be lower than in previous years.
That doesn't necessarily mean fewer Kentucky students are finishing high school. Rather, education officials say, it reflects a different method of computing the rate of graduations.
The most recent available Kentucky graduation rate, for the 2008-09 school year, was 83.91 percent.
"You can expect this new rate to be a lower number than that," Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the state education department, said last week. "I wouldn't say you'll see a 20- or 30-point drop. But you might see a 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, maybe 8-point drop.
"However, you really can't compare the numbers with previous years because they're based on a different way of calculating the rates."
Kentucky will use that computational method this year and next year before adopting a new, uniform national system for calculating graduation rates starting in the 2013-14 school year. Many states will start using that system this year, but Kentucky isn't ready.
It's all part of a general move toward a more accurate measurement of high school graduation rates across the country, and educators predict many states will see their rates fall sharply as the new system goes into effect.
Accurately knowing high school graduation rates is crucial as a measure of how well the education system is doing in keeping students in school.
In earlier years, states used various methods for computing their graduation rates. And critics often contended that many states employed formulas that undercounted the number of school dropouts, artificially inflating their graduation results.
Liz Utrup, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, recently told The Associated Press that graduate-rate numbers probably will go down "across the board" as states adopt the new uniform system.
"Through this uniform method, states are raising the bar on data standards and simply being more honest," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP.
According to Gross, Kentucky previously computed its graduation rates by totaling the number of high school graduates in a given year, then considering the number of students who dropped out of school during the previous four years and certain other factors.
The report that will be released Tuesday for the 2009-10 school year will be based on what's called an "averaged freshman graduation rate," according to Gross. It's intended to provide a clearer picture of graduation rates while meeting requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The state also will release an "adjusted" graduation rate this week that includes students with disabilities who receive "certificates of completion" rather than high school diplomas.
Both those systems are only an interim step while Kentucky prepares to start using the new uniform national system in 2013-14. Gross said the state's computerized student information system isn't ready to do the kind of record keeping the new "cohort" uniform system will require.
According to Gross, the new system basically will be able to follow each child from the time he or she enters ninth grade until graduation.
Susan Weston, an educational analyst with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, says the interim computing system that Kentucky will use this year and next year to compute its graduate rate "may make things look a little worse than they actually are."
But she foresees major improvements in computing the graduation rates when Kentucky adopts the new uniform national system — even though the more accurate rates are likely to show that the state still has much to do to increase graduations.
"I'm inclined to think the number two years from now is going to be a lot better, a lot more accurate," Weston said. "I think it will look a little less like a screaming disaster ... but still like something that we really want to change."