Count all high school grads

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 29 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:18 am in

By Mark Schneider

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The Iowa Department of Education recently released graduation rate data for the class of 2013. Statistics, like words, sometime need more definition to be fully understood.

What the department and the media leave unexplained about the graduation rate is that a significant number of students are left out of this statistic even though, within the same four-year period, they met the same graduation requirements as their same-aged peers who walked across the graduation stage.

An Individualized Education Plan guides the learning of every public school student who has an identified disability. As the student learns and grows, the student’s IEP is revised during annual meetings between the student, parents, teachers, area education agency support personnel and administrators. Beginning at age 14, by law, the student’s IEP must contain a secondary transition goal.

This goal’s ultimate purpose is to make the transition from high school to the adult world a success. The IEP secondary transition goal guides the learning, school activities, required resources and the necessary collaboration among people and agencies needed to ensure a smooth post-high school transition. By state and federal law, school districts are required to provide support until the student reaches age 21 or achieves the transition goal, whichever comes first.

NOT COUNTED

My son Erik has autism and never was counted as a high school graduate by the department even though he satisfied all of the Mid-Prairie School District’s graduation requirements at the same time as his same-aged classmates. He accomplished his transition goal at age 20 instead of May of his high school senior year. The department does not count students, like Erik, as four-year graduates. Therefore, every year, thousands of Iowa students are left out of the department’s graduation rate statistic even though their only failing is to have a disability.

Secondary transition goals are important. The goal can make the difference between students being a drain on society’s resources for the rest of their lives or becoming taxpaying, active and contributing citizens.

In Erik’s case, the goal provided the necessary support enabling him to eventually become a paid North Liberty Community Library staff member. The skills and knowledge learned through the transition process led him to be named North Liberty’s 2012 Outstanding Rookie Employee of the Year.

For 2013, the department has reported Mid-Prairie School District’s graduation rate as 79.07 percent. However, this statistic does not include nine district students with IEPs who successfully completed the district’s graduation requirements last May but still are working on their transition goal. If those students were included, Mid-Prairie’s true four-year graduation rate would be 98 percent.

For the last three years, I have expressed concerns to department officials, including director Brad Buck. My opinion has fallen on deaf ears. The status quo forces school districts to choose between a high graduation rate or doing what’s best for students with IEPs. The only credible reason given to me for current practice is the federal No Child Left Behind Law requires reporting this way.

THE SOLUTION

The solution is easy. The Department of Education should continue to report Iowa’s graduation rate to the federal government in the same manner. However, in reporting to Iowa’s media and residents, the department should report the successful graduation rate counting all students, disabled and non-disabled alike, who have met the graduation requirements of their local districts irrespective of whether or not they have met any transition goal.

It is discriminatory for the department to publicly report graduation rates in this manner and it is inviting a lawsuit by individuals or disability organizations. Isn’t it time in Iowa that all students count?

Mark Schneider is superintendent, Mid-Prairie and Keota Community School Districts. Comments; mschneider@mphawks.org

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