DiNapoli Audit Identifies Discrepancies in Dropout Rate Reported by NYC Department of Education
The dropout rate among New York City public school students is higher than claims made by the city Department of Education (DoE), according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. DiNapoli’s auditors found that for the 2004 through 2008 school years, the dropout rate may have been as high as 16.5 percent, rather than the 13 percent cited by DoE. As a result, the graduation rate may have been as low as 62.9 percent, rather than the 65.5 percent reported by DoE.
“The city school system needs to sharpen its pencils when it comes to knowing which kids are dropping out and which kids are transferring to another school,” said DiNapoli. “DoE should be doing its homework and making sure the right papers are turned in to back up the reasons why students are leaving school.”
High school graduation and dropout rates are regarded as important indicators of a school’s effectiveness.
While the audit considered reported rates within 5 percent of audited rates to be generally accurate, the difference means that the graduation rate and discharge rate include thousands of students who actually dropped out.
DiNapoli’s auditors attribute the discrepancy to DoE’s erroneous classification of dropout students as having been “discharged” from high school. Discharged students should only be categorized as such when they transfer to another school or another educational program, leave the country, or are deceased.
DiNapoli’s auditors examined DoE’s discharge records for its 2004-08 general education cohort (the group of students who entered ninth grade in 2004 and were expected to graduate four years later), and found that in a random sample of 500 “discharged” students, 74 (14.8 percent) didn’t have the required documentation. As a result, all 74 should have been classified as dropouts.
Projecting the results of the sample to the entire cohort, DiNapoli’s auditors found that the correct graduation rate for the cohort was between 62.9 and 63.6 percent, rather than the 65.5 percent reported by DoE, and the correct dropout rate was between 15.5 and 16.5 percent, rather than the 13.0 percent reported by DoE. At some individual high schools, the correct graduation rates could be lower, and the correct dropout rates higher, than DoE reported.
According to DoE, the city’s 2004-08 general education cohort had a total of 88,612 students, of whom 46,896 graduated, 15,368 were still enrolled after four years, 17,025 were discharged, and 9,323 dropped out.
DiNapoli’s auditors also examined DoE’s discharge classifications for its 2004-08 special education cohort and identified similar errors. Auditors estimated that the correct graduation rate for this cohort was between 8.9 and 9.3 percent, rather than the 9.7 percent reported by DoE, and the correct dropout rate was between 20.6 and 23.8 percent, rather than the 17.2 percent reported by DoE. Even with the identified error rate, the NYC graduation rate is trending upwards as reported by DoE.
DiNapoli recommended that DoE officials:
- Ensure that DoE discharge guidelines fully align with New York State Education Department (SED) regulations;
- Instruct all schools to adhere to the SED regulations for discharge classifications, and provide training in the regulations for school staff who administer discharges; and
- Conduct periodic reviews of discharge classifications to determine whether they are being made and documented in accordance with SED regulations.
DoE officials generally agreed with DiNapoli’s recommendations and indicated they have taken action or will be taking action to implement them. Most notably, DoE’s guidelines were amended before the 2009-10 school year to better align with SED’s guidelines on required documentation to support a discharge classification. Click here for a copy of the report.