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SH officials say 2013 grad rate incorrect

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NEW PALESTINE — Southern Hancock school officials are proud of their 2013 graduation rate of 92.3 percent. But they are challenging it as inaccurate.

New Palestine High School Principal Keith Fessler and district officials say by their calculations, the high school’s graduation rate should be 95.3 percent.

Fessler told the SH School Board this week that officials met recently with representatives of the Indiana Department of Education to discuss the discrepancy, which apparently stems from the complicated accounting of student mobility.

The graduation rate is based on the number of students who entered high school as freshmen. Students who move to other schools or who depart school for a number of other reasons don’t count against the rate when the class graduates. Dropouts do, and that’s the number that’s in dispute.

The state says New Palestine High School had 10 students drop out for one reason or another. Fessler said the high school has good documentation that four of the students either moved or transferred to home school. Those students’ departures should not count against the 2013 grad rate, Fessler said.

The accounting is confusing.

“One of (the disputed four students) was listed as unknown but had transferred to home school,” Fessler said. “Another was listed as a dropout, but our documentation has her listed as going to Greenfield, but she also came back and then went back to Greenfield, so somewhere in the mess, she got lost in the shuffle with the state.”

“We sent all that stuff in to the state, and for whatever reason, we didn’t win any of the challenges to date,” Fessler said.

However, the recent meeting with DOE officials could change that.  

Fessler said those four students plus two others added by DOE to the school’s 2013 cohort contributed to a grad rate that’s three points lower than it should be.

“They’ve given us the opportunity to present documentation for that year, and they may look at it,” Fessler said. “There is a possibility that it might get changed.”

When district officials met with the DOE representative, they were informed there is no real appeal process for graduation rate numbers.

“All we can do is challenge the number that they gave us,” Superintendent Jim Halik said. “We can’t appeal it because there is no format or process established at DOE to do that.”

Halik is upset with the figure and wants it to be changed because the wrong rate will end up on the district’s annual report card. He said other inaccurate information already is being published in the report.

“None of that information (on the annual report) can be changed because the Legislature hasn’t provided any measures for it to be corrected,” Halik said. “There are certain databases to go to and certain ways they do their calculations, and they don’t take our direct numbers.”

He cited this year’s attendance figures on count day as an example and said DOE listed the district with 150 students more than they actually reported.

“People see that, and they think that we are one number where we get $5,000 per child and then all of a  sudden on the annual report card, we’re 150 children more or up. Well, where’s the money? And people start questioning what we’re doing with the money ... it’s very misleading.”

Halik said the public deserves to get an annual report card with accurate information.

“Our class sizes are hugely inflated on that report,” Halik said. “That was something we challenged and questioned because it is inaccurate information. But we can’t change it on the report to reflect the accurate information.”

Fessler said the discrepancy has prompted front-office officials at NPHS to start taking deeper looks into each cohort earlier rather than waiting until a student’s senior year.

“We’ve already started doing that and are even looking at the freshman cohort right now,” Fessler said. “Anyone who has been removed, and if it looks funky to us, we’ll be sending it in and won’t wait on it.”

Fessler said the district received confirmation from DOE last week that their challenges have arrived and are being looked at by a team of auditors. They hope to hear some positive news within a few weeks.

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