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Connecticut's Graduation Rates Might Not Be as High as Reported

Jul 16, 2015

Connecticut has seen graduation rates steadily rise over the last five years. But questions are being asked about what’s behind the numbers.  

Robert Cotto, a lecturer at Trinity College, said the actual graduation rates might not be as high as numbers reported by school districts, and that the way the state and federal government calculate graduation rates is flawed.

“The new formula starts with those freshmen, goes all the way to senior year and tries to follow those students," Cotto told WNPR's Where We Live. "But it also adjusts and it takes out students that have transferred to another school or another state or maybe even homeschooling for instance. And so those students who transfer out of a cohort, we don’t know very much about those particular students.” 

Robert Cotto in a WNPR file photo.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

A member of the Hartford Board of Education, Cotto's been trying to figure out what happens to so many students who transfer to other schools and how they're counted as part of a district’s official graduation rate.

How does all this work? Well, it’s complicated. Basically, the state Department of Education lists around 30 different reasons that a school district can use to adjust its graduation rate up or down. 

But Cotto claimed that the state only provides the graduation rate, and not the total number of students in a school.

“It’s a very confusing thing and it doesn’t make sense, because this is supposed to be a way to kind of keep schools accountable, particularly at the high school level by showing what percentage of students has graduated, but the state won’t even show its work,” he said.

An NPR investigation found that struggling students across the country are allowed to graduate by given remedial work that could be diluting the value of a high school diploma. In Connecticut, magnet schools have been accused of asking low performing students to go back to their home school, fearing that the student wouldn’t graduate on time, which would lower the school’s graduation rate.

Kelly Donnelly, formerly a spokesman for the State Department of Education and now the chief of staff to education Commissioner Diana Wentzell, has not responded to requests for comment.