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By Cristina Silva July 8, 2010

Alex Sink says Florida's grad rates are low

Like any good Democrat, gubernatorial hopeful Alex Sink has a habit of highlighting the state's mediocre public education record. Voters need look no further than her campaign website, where she laments student achievement records.

"Florida’s high school graduation rate falls well below the national average," reads her campaign website. "That’s unacceptable, especially as we work to build a new and stronger Florida economy."

The campaign did not respond to a request for Sink's source, but we found plenty of information that shows Florida is far from the head of the class when it comes to graduation rates.

The National Center for Education Statistics puts the national average graduation rate at 73.9 percent based on the class of 2006-2007 in a 2010 report. It determined Florida, with a rate of 65 percent, was among 11 states and the District of Columbia with graduation rates below 70 percent. In fact, Florida fell below the national average every year from 2001 to 2007. The report only counted traditional diplomas.

Diplomas Count 2010, another respected education report, also puts Florida's graduation rate below the national average for every school year from 2005 through 2007, the most recent years available. For example, the graduation rate for Florida's class of 2007 was 62.1 percent. The national rate was 68.8 percent. Only nine other states and the District of Columbia also scored below 65 percent.

Diplomas Count reached its results counting only students receiving standard high school diplomas. Recipients of General Educational Development diplomas, certificates of attendance and other nondiploma credentials were treated as nongraduates.

We found only one source that somewhat countered Sink's claim, and it's an interesting one -- the Florida Department of Education.

Spokesman Cheryl Etters said national reports are not the most credible source of information because each ranking and state may use different "graduate" definitions. For example, Florida counts students who obtain a GED in two of its graduation counts. But Diplomas Count 2010 and other education research groups do not.

In all, the state calculates three graduation rates:

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  • The regular rate counts all diploma recipients as graduates, including standard and special diplomas and all GEDs. For the 2006-2007 school year the rate was 72.4.
  • The No Child Left Behind graduation rate considers only standard diplomas and GEDs awarded to high school students. It excludes certificates of attendance and GEDs awarded to adult students. That rate was 69.8 in 2007.
  • The National Governors Association rate counts standard diplomas and certificates of attendance, but not GEDs. That rate was 70.3 in 2007.

We decided to compare these numbers to the national graduation rates we had for that school year, even though it wouldn't be an exact comparison.

Florida's figures all fell below the National Center for Education Statistics 2007 national graduation rate of 73.9 percent, thus backing Sink's claim.

Florida's numbers were higher than the national graduation rate of 68.8 percent published in Diplomas Count 2010, but that's most likely because Diplomas Count has a more narrow "graduate" definition.

In short, multiple calculations determined Florida's graduation rate falls below the national average. As for the "well below," part of Sink's claim, both the National Center for Education Statistics and Diplomas Count put Florida among the bottom third of all the states.

And, while Florida's most recent graduation rates show improvement -- during the 2008-2009 school year, the regular graduation rate rose to 78.6, the No Child Left Behind graduation rate rose to 76.2, and the National Governors Association rate climbed to 76.3 -- national groups have yet to evaluate the latest data, so we can't determine whether Florida has finally surpassed the average national graduation rate.

Based on what we know and the latest data, we say Sink passed the test. We give this a True.

Our Sources

Alex Sink campaign website, education agenda, accessed July 5, 2010.

Email interview, Cheryl Etters, Florida Department of Education spokesman, July 6, 2010.

Email interview, Hajime Mitani, research analyst for EPE Research Center, July 7, 2010.

Education Week, "Diplomas Count 2010," June 2010.

National Center for Education Statistics, "The Condition of Education 2010."

Florida Governor Charlie Crist, press release, December 4, 2009.

Florida Department of Education, high school graduation rates, November 2009.

Email interview, Erin Munley, National Governors Association spokesman, July 8, 2010.

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