Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fact Check: Is SPHS' graduation rate really 98%

 When Dr. Culver hesitated a bit prior to stating at the Annual Electors Meeting that Sun Prairie's graduation rate was 98%, we wondered.  So we did a little research.

As of May 1, 2012, the "official" tally of 12th graders was 496; however, the STAR reported the number of 2012 graduates to be 480.  That would yield a percentage of only 96.8%.  What happened to the other 1.2% (about 6 kids)?  Did we misplace them?

Now DPI data is always at least a year behind, but the DPI data for 2011 (as reported by Sun Prairie) was only a 94.6% graduation rate.  So, from one perspective, going from 94.6% to 96.8% is a nice increase.  But still...where did Dr. Culver's 98% come from?  Is this yet another example of questionable information coming from the district administration?  Or, like a presidential candidate, is the 98% a "true" statement IF you consider a a number of unmentioned conditions?

So what we did next boys and girls, was to compare Sun Prairie's 2011 graduation rate to other districts in Dane County and also to the 20 similar sized districts (10 smaller; 10 larger).

Overall, Sun Prairie looks pretty darn good, especially against similar sized school districts, coming in 5th out of 21.

While in Dane Co., Sun Prairie sits in the middle of the pack, let's be real.  The schools above us are much smaller school districts.

Does size matter?
It's starting to look like size matters when it comes to graduation rate.  But, what the numbers do not show is the demographics of the student body.  It's far more difficult to achieve a 100% graduation rate when the numbers of socio-economically disadvantaged students rises significantly.

Chasing the mean
We also looked at the history of gradation rates (up to age 21) going back to 1996-97 school year.  While the last three years have seen an increase, overall the tendency is to bounce around a mean of 94-96%.  And that's the way statistics work.  It's just like in football, a player will have a "career" year, and then bounce back down to the mean.   Like Monte Ball is doing.  He's a great back, but last year was the perfect storm of sorts, with a (now) NFL starting quarterback, and a lot of quality receivers, much running back depth, and a stalwart offensive line.  Now...he's doing well, but nowhere near a Heisman pace.  Similarly, people started questioning Aaron Rodgers.  One 6 TD game later, and he's back looking like he has the past 3 years.

Life is a game of chasing the mean.  We'll have up games and down games.  We'll have up years and we'll have down years, but, at the end of the day (year, season) we won't fluctuate much off the mean.

Is 100% graduation rate achievable?
The DPI data (2011) includes 381 districts with 12th grade enrollment.  19 of these districts (5%) had 100% high school "completion rates", culminating in a diploma.  So...100% IS attainable.  Notably, however, the average class size of these districts with 100% graduation rate was 42 students.  That means a high school graduating class less than one-tenth of Sun Prairie's size.   Let's not even talk about the differences in diversity or socio-economic disparities.

The largest district with 100% enrollment was  Baldwin-Woodville with a graduating class of 115 (less than 1/3 of Sun Prairie's).  Interestingly, Baldwin-Woodville was on the list of best high schools.  But look closely at how Sun Prairie compares to Baldwin-Woodville.

                             Sun Prairie     Baldwin-Woodville

Median Household Income        $55,456        $46,142
% Economically Disadvantaged    25.8%           23.4%
% Minority students             24.8%            5.9%
Population                     26,031            4,470
# students                      7095             1635

Look...we could have 3 high schools, instead of one...but who's kidding whom?  That would be cost prohibitive.  And regardless of how many high schools we have, we still need to come to grips with the diversity issue.

The Bottom Line
Mr. Guyant's attempt to compare graduation rate to things like airplane crash rate, brake failure, or foodborne illness is ill-informed at best, grandstanding at the very least.  It was a Hail Mary attempt to persuade community members to simply throw more money at the school district.  Frankly, we'd rather see more National Merit Scholars than named courtyards or classrooms.

What we need to do is better educate the kids we have that WANT to be there.  Life is about choices, and some kids simply do not choose to graduate from high school.  Learning cannot be forced.

Last but not least, it would be interesting to learn where Dr. Culver came up with his response that our graduation rate is 98%.  The numbers we see do not add up.  But, hey, that's not the first time we've seen that in this district.