Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dropouts vs. grad rate: More confusion

The recent state report on 2010-11 dropout rates may have added to confusion over how many Charlotte-Mecklenburg students are staying in school.  As one person who emailed me noted,  the CMS dropout rate of 3.57 percent seems way out of whack with a 2011 graduation rate of 73.5 percent.

It's not as crazy as it sounds.  The annual dropout rate tallied the percent of all high school students who left school in 2010-11.  The on-time graduation rate is the percent of students who started ninth grade in 2007-08 and graduated four years later.  During those four years,  CMS' cumulative dropout rate was 18.6 percent  (the rate has been dropping every year).

That's still short of the 26.5 percent who failed to graduate in four years.  Some of those no doubt came back this year,   neither dropouts or on-time grads.  In 2010-11,  454 CMS students who should have graduated with the Class of 2010 got their diplomas,  bumping up the total graduation rate for that class by 4.6 percentage points.

I can't swear that there are no mistakes in CMS' drop-out or on-time graduation rates,  but there has been no indication that either is faulty.  The error that created a stir and led to the resignation of a data administrator had to do with a completely separate measure created by CMS,  which tallied the percent of students who had never been retained and used that as a gauge of being on track to graduate.


Reality Check said...

I absolutely hate to defend CMS, but I'll offer a strictly statistical perspective here...

If the graduation rate represents those students who successfully complete their graduation requirements within 3.9 years of starting their freshman year, and the dropout rate represents those students who intentionally withdrew from school with no intentions to graduate, there is room for those rates to be different from a sum of 100%.

Students who take more than 4.0 years to graduate high school would not be included in the "graduation rate" because they are not doing so on time, nor would they represent "drop-outs" because they are still enrolled. This category would include students who take 4.5 or more years to graduate from high school.

No doubt, a person of my mathematical ability would love to have the job that is apparently available. I wouldn't publish results that could not be defended with mathematical data. Imagine that, I'd be prepared to defend any statistic I'd be willing to announce.

So who wants me to be the next Muri? I'll never lie to you.

Hint-hint: Repeated requests for my application to CMS will be honored. I wouldn't let the community down...

Anonymous said...

It was actually Chris Cobbitz that resigned. Muri is still collecting his big paycheck.

Justicenow said...

While no one is pleased about the mistake in the reporting of graduation rates, the school district assembles thousands of statistics accurately every year. To jump on a single error, (however glaring) fire the guy who made that one mistake and call it a "crisis of confidence" is disingenuous. If we thought he was lying, that might account for the termination but I always found Cobitz to be a bulldog with the numbers... tenacious, plodding but honest. In fact, I do not think he generated the numbers but relied upon individual schools to supply them. The way the school system and the community are acting seems to be responding is strange. It reminds me of chicken little announcing the sky is falling with this sudden crisis of confidence. Perhaps it is due to worry we will lose the Broad Prize accolades or maybe that opponents of a teacher evaluation system will seize the example to help fight their fear of a data driven evaluation system. I have no doubt everyone reading this has made a mistake at work, (with the exception of me, of course).
Put another way, if this is the metric we use to judge eachother, every reporter from the Charlotte Observer to Fox News to CNN would have a pink slip and every parent should be in jail for doing a lousy job. There is value in statistics and while not conclusive, some teachers DO perform better than others, some schools DO graduate more kids, and some kids do get suspended more than others. Not having that information prevents us from asking better questions about the education process.

Anonymous said...

justicenow-- do you actually think one data error is why Cobitz is gone? Maybe its a pattern of bullying staff and being dogmatic and refusing to listen to rational people. Or maybe it was botching the development and administration of all the tests last spring.
Whatever the reason, good riddance. He was NOT an asset to CMS and caused more problems with his enormous ego that anyone else currently on staff.

Justicenow said...

Anon, your explanation makes sense... there is usually more to the story- just ask the passangers on the Titanic. My interaction with him was very limited but he was always quick to respond albeit a little high-handedly. Still, I am ok with large egos as long as they are backed by competentence on the job. It doesn't make it any fun for co-workers but it beats "nice ineptitude" anyday. I defer to your assessment as you sound a lot closer to the problem than I.

Anonymous said...

Interesting tidbit that the State makes schools do: students who withdraw and then DON'T re-enroll in school, but DO re-enroll in an alternative program like CPCC's diploma program get counted as a DROPOUT against the school's numbers. So, if Max decides at 19 that he doesn't want to keep spinning his wheels in traditional high school and elects to withdraw--sit out the 6 months, then enroll in CPCC, get his Diploma and move on with his life--then the school he attended--say, East Meck gets Max counted as a DROPOUT against their statistics. Even though Max went out and actually got his Diploma and never stepped foot on East Meck's campus ever again and withdrew.

So, when looking at these stats--there are many instances where the State of NC has these rules of real stupidity that count against a school and "hurt" their stats, etc. When a kid may have opted to finish their education in a non-traditional means.

Anonymous said...

The school progress report data was released to ALL principals in CMS before it was made public.None of the principals made an effort to correct the data or even question it. Every high school principal in CMS makes $100,000+ in salary. They are either inept a liar or both.

Wiley Coyote said...

Does anyone know how individual students are tracked each year for 13 years while in CMS?

What system or criteria is used?

Anonymous said...


Schools did not supply the on-track data. Schools were just as shocked (and many let CMS know it) when they saw the numbers during their preview. And many told CMS they didn't seem right. Or asked for an explanation for how they were calculated. No response.

Yes principals did review the progress reports and most of the revisions one principal sent in were ignored. Go figure.

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Anonymous 10:25AM
Yes, if Max leaves CMS at age 19 and enrolls in CPCC to get his diploma, it SHOULD count as a drop-out for CMS because that is exactly what he did!

Do you seriously expect CMS to be able to take credit for a diploma they didn't get done? Your hypothetical Max, presumably left CMS because he wasn't going to get the job done there and needed to go somewhere else. That should count against CMS.

Anonymous said...

Bill Anderson at might be an excellent person to interview on his dropout rate at Myers Park. Many still wonder about the disappearing students, especially since his association with current and past "education" associations.

Anonymous said...

@John - Why is it CMS' fault if Max decided not to do his work and fail classes and get behind? Why is that not on the kid and parent?

Wiley Coyote said...

In order for the rest of us to try and understand the data from CMS, we need to know the methodology and how it's collected.

We've already seen examples of how bad their reporting is.

RFID can track a case of product or individual SKUs from the plant to the final destination and can even tell you when the individual products are sold through the register and the case they were shipped in crushed the bailer.

Universal Product Code (UPC) is a unique number for every consumer product made.

All sales data for that one item from multiple retailers around the world can be sliced and diced based on data collection from where they are sold.

Maybe CMS uses a child's SS number to track them, but is CMS querying data by child and rolling that up into a database?

A student either graduates or they don't. They go on to the next grade or they don't and if they dropout, they dropout.

It seems to me tracking those criteria accurately shouldn't be an issue.

Again, the methodology of how data is tracked and assimilated is key to understanding the madness.

The old saying of S*** in equals S*** out is how CMS is currently handling their data.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Vendors, vendors, vendors. Follow the smell.

Wiley Coyote said...

To my knowledge, vendors are not collecting and managing the data.

They may be selling software to do it.

So how is the data collected and warehoused and how is each student attached to it?

Anonymous said...

Why is the "formula" not clearly stated when performance results are presented. My experience auditing another school system's performance data demonstrated the need for calculation transparency.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Justicenow, I've been reporting on CMS data errors for 10 years now, and over the years have encountered officials who were defensive and outright hostile when questioned. They never got fired or resigned. I always found Chris Cobitz to be quick to respond and interested in getting the numbers right and having them explained clearly. I'm sure I don't yet know the whole story about what happened this time, and quite possibly never will, though I do hope a better explanation lies ahead.

Ann Doss Helms said...

12:11 p.m., that is interesting. One principal told me she spotted and reported numerous errors in the first version. A couple of others said theirs did not have major errors and they did not spot a problem with the on-track-to-graduate number. Most I tried to reach didn't return my calls or wouldn't talk about it, and can you blame them? It's kind of a no-win situation: Call out your bosses or say you didn't spot errors that were, at many schools, pretty glaring.

Anonymous said...

10 Years of data errors.

How would you like to be measured and payed based on this ?!?

Anonymous said...


These are our top people making over $100,000 is the glaring part.Who can you trust anymore?

Anonymous said...

If the principals reported it and nothing was done, then there is corruption at the top. Follow the money!

Wiley Coyote said...

I wouldn't believe one report coming from CMS.

Not one.

Anonymous said...

This same issue, inaccurate data without accountability, has occurred in hospitals. Good quality professionals are available to "see" the statistical improbabilities. Some of these people have extensive experience with schools and school systems. Find them. Get their assistance. Until that is done, by external independent experts, how can we believe the data?

Jeff Wise said...

I agree with Wiley on the tracking, but it doesn't have to be SSN's since there's all those perceived issues about privacy, ID theft, etc.

When we registered our 4-year old for Kindergarten next year, he was given a student ID, like all CMS students. This should be the tracking device.

I fully expect that 13 years from now when our son graduates that we ought to be able to pull up his records online and see a history of his grades, teachers, progress reports and other items that were filed about him.

I don't know off hand if this is possible, if it's not, then the data system in place needs fixing. This is easy stuff.

Moreover, I would like by the time our son graduates, to be able to see copies of tests, projects, papers and even recordings/photos of his arts endeavors.

If he's a troublemaker, I would expect recording of conversations with the principal in there too. If the teacher is amenable let's record our conferences and include those too.

This greatly increases the needs of data storage and in this age of slack funding I don't see this happening in CMS at all.

And it'd necessitate more data security too, but this is 2012. If Facebook/Twitter can maintain databases of everything a user does, why shouldn't education too?

This kind of record keeping would allow all sorts of researchers to analyze the data and really and truly suss out what makes a student learn, and what impact a teacher has on that learning.

Thing is, I'd venture to bet that 75% of that functionality is already in place within CMS....but is it being properly tracked?

Anonymous said...

The current Parent Assist Grading system isn't even accurate--we are told to remind students it is an approximation of their grade--it ISN'T ACCURATE!! PERIOD. And this is the system that CMS uses to tell parents to go online and check their kid's grades, but we're told to remind kids it's not completely accurate at averaging. DURH!

Additionally, 10 years of Data errors reporting. If that, coupled with this latest mess, isn't REASON enough to not want to push forward with this constant testing craze, teacher evaluation and pay based on data craze-- I don't know what is. Seriously, "oops--sorry, we paid you wrong because our formula was off." Isn't going to cut it. Law Suit Central will open up, a. and b. lack of ethos totally removes feasibility from any program. Period.

Wiley Coyote said...


I agree with you as well.

There should be no reason why CMS shouldn't be able track your son and his progress for the next 13 years.

Unfortunately, we've had Bright Beginnings for that long and what kind of data do we have for that program 13 years later?


Anonymous said...


CMS couldn't find its feet with a flashlight.

I hope that's a nicer way of making a similar comment that includes toilet paper.

BolynMcClung said...


Suggested new Dallas Independent School District highly paid positions:

Deputy Superintendent for Not Shooting Our Foot Off

Director of the Office of Don’t Let’s Be Clueless Fools.

DISD is also looking for a new superintendent and is using ProAct.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Imagine better data tracking with 3 smaller districts, with less administration at the top.

Have you seen SPARK Educational Performances petition to the NC State Legislature, asking to divide up CMS into 3 smaller separate districts?

Ann Doss Helms said...

I'm not trying to imply that it's been a constant stream of errors for 10 years. As an earlier poster noted, errors happen in any large organization; the Observer has run quite a few corrections over the past decade. I'm just saying the current (or recently departed) data folks are actually MORE receptive to questions and challenges than some of their predecessors have been.

Wiley Coyote said...

Imagine the total chaos that will ensue breaking up CMS.

This happened to a school district in Utah who tried the same thing a few years back...

Utah's youngest school district will observe its first birthday on Thursday. But one year after Canyons was born through a bitter split with Jordan School District, it's unclear whether students -- or taxpayers -- on either side are better off.

The divorce broke up Utah's largest school district -- 81,000 students in the south Salt Lake Valley -- and created the first new school district in 100 years. The process, an east-side vote that excluded west-side Jordan residents and left them with less money per pupil, sparked resentment on both sides that still festers.

The breakup alone cost taxpayers $33 million, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis done in 2009. The tab included $3 million in legal fees paid by both sides, the cost of hiring people to run Canyons and the expense of relocating Jordan's central offices.

So far, class sizes are no smaller, taxes are higher and there is less help for kids struggling to read in both districts. Both are dipping into construction funds to cover operating expenses, a fix offered by the Legislature that is available for only two years.

Anonymous said...

HELLO the data is tracked via the kids ID number so this data is sitting in their laps. Do they like what they see? NO WIll it hurt their ability to get more money from the county/state? YES does it show progress?NO Why would CMS LIE ? Because their programs show no progress or results as their management is terrible. Accountability is terrible. Resulting in terrible results and lack of progress.

BolynMcClung said...


Ann correctly points out the Observer as a nest of errors just waiting to sting the public.

In the early 1970’s the Observer’s parent company was pushing zero defect. Once a quarter the chain would set aside one day to attempt the impossible.

The sister papers were the Philadelphia Inquirer, Detroit Free Press and Miami Herald. On this day the Observer had a real bone-headed typo.

In the Society section, there was a column titled “Worth Noting.” As you can imagine this was for cute articles about ancient women’s tea parties, the sister-in-law from out of town, debutants and princesses. Charlotte was still a provincial crossroads pushing Metrolina and the Kemper Open as the wave of the future. The McDonalds on Freedom Drive and Independence were still the outside walk-up window variety.

The title on that day was, “Worth Nothing.”

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

I havent gotten my invitation to the "PARTY" yet.Where is it Latarja?

Come on Man !

Anonymous said...

You should look into the dropout rate of teachers. Not the TFA fly by nights nor the latteral entry folks. The fully qualified veteran teachers that seem to be leaving at an excelerated pace. Would find these stats very interesting. Oh, I forgot, CMS = Constantly Manipulating Statistics.Guess I will have to wait a couple of years to see the departures for myself.