WASHINGTON – Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, told a national conference of Latino elected officials that other states should adopt a single, high school graduation rate formula like the one Maryland passed earlier this year.
Such legislation is a key step in improving the collection and analysis of dropout data and helping minority students stay in school, she said Friday at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund Summit on the State of Latino Education.
“Without good data, you cannot do good public policy,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez participated in the summit last year and was invited to speak this year because organizers were impressed by her legislation and dedication to shrinking the achievement gap between white and minority students, said Olga Quinones-Berumen, spokeswoman of the California-based summit sponsor.
Maryland was the first state to pass new requirements for computing the graduation rate following a National Governors Association meeting last year, where the single-formula model was proposed.
Maryland’s success with the law is an example for other states, said Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, which researches middle- and high-school policies.
“Nothing happens federally that doesn’t start at the local level,” he said.
Gutierrez, who joined black legislators to pass the bill, said monitoring student enrollment at the start of high school is important because ninth grade is a critical moment when too many newcomers, overwhelmed by the demands of a high school curriculum, fall by the wayside.
“We’re educating some kids and not educating others,” Gutierrez said, noting that black and Latino students are less likely to complete high school than their white peers.
Even in well-performing school districts, like Montgomery County, minority students are left behind, she said.
“We have a gap, a huge gap, and the black and Latino kids are still doing poorly,” Gutierrez said.
Maryland’s current graduation rate formula divides high school graduates by the total number of dropouts in grades nine through 12 and the number of students receiving a diploma.
The new law requires officials to track students as they progress through high school, helping them spot problem areas. It determines the graduation rate by dividing the number of students who receive a diploma in a given year by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier. Students with GED diplomas do not count as graduates.
The calculation accounts for students with limited English knowledge and students with disabilities who may take longer to graduate, and for transfer students.
More stringent data collection and reporting standards will prompt the state to set better goals, Gutierrez said.
Previously Maryland’s graduation rate goals were set below rates the state was already achieving, she said.
The next challenge, the delegate said, is to find ways to help kids who are not graduating.
She said she hoped to join the House budget committee to work on redirecting state money to enrichment programs for students who fall behind.
The state is required to implement the formula by 2011 but school districts will start using the new method as early as this year.