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Few states top Wisconsin’s K-12 graduation rate -- and the rate has gone up in recent years.
State School Superintendent Tony Evers boasted on his Facebook page on Feb. 13, 2017 that "Wisconsin’s graduation rates have grown to over 90 percent" since his election.
Evers is seeking a third term in the April 2017 election against challenger Lowell Holtz, a former school superintendent and principal.
When asked to back up the Facebook claim, the Evers campaign pointed to graduation rates published by the agency Evers oversees, the Department of Public Instruction.
The reports, they say, show a rate of 85.7 percent in 2009-10 (Evers’ first year) that rose to more than 90 percent in subsequent years.
No. Let’s put our red pencil and green eye shade to work.
How rates are tracked
The state and federal governments employ two methods to track changes in the four-year graduation rate.
The first method -- dating to the 1960s -- estimates the four-year graduation rate from aggregate figures on enrollment and graduate counts.
It shows Wisconsin’s rate was above 90 percent before Evers even took office. The latest figure reported under that method: 92 percent, in 2011-12.
The second method, which is newer and more accurate, tracks detailed student-level data.
That method dates to 2009-10 in Wisconsin. It shows a rising rate from 85.7 percent in Evers’ first year up to 88.4 percent in 2014-15.
So neither approach backs up Evers’ claim.
For the record, the state’s rate of 88.4 percent for on-time graduation (four years) ranked 6th-highest nationally by the latest numbers, which is actually a drop from No. 2 four years earlier.
Behind the claim
So where do the numbers cited by the Evers campaign come from?
Those numbers look at how many students from a 9th-grade class graduate over five or six years, not four years.
Wisconsin began tracking so-called "extended-year graduation" in Evers’ first year; dozens of other states also collect it.
Viewed this way, Evers campaign says, the class of 2009-10 four-year graduation rate for the class of 2009-10 was 85.7 percent. It rose to 89.5 percent after five years and to 90.4 percent after six years.
A similar growth pattern appears in later years, when you track an individual class.
But we can’t judge if the same thing was happening before Evers, because the collection of the extended-year graduation rate didn’t start until his second year.
So we can’t fully evaluate whether these figures show that "Wisconsin’s graduation rates have grown to over 90 percent" since he took over.
But, even if they did, it would apply to the less-used "extended-year rate," not the more conventional 4-year rate that is better known to the average person.
Evers claimed on Facebook: "Wisconsin’s graduation rates have grown to over 90%" since he became state school superintendent.
By the traditional measure -- graduation in four years -- Wisconsin’s rate is one of the best in America, but still below 90 percent using one approach. Using the other, it topped that mark before Evers even took office.
Meanwhile, the extended-year graduation rate provides an element of truth to the claim.
That puts it at Mostly False.
Evers campaign Facebook post, Feb. 13, 2017
Interview with Thomas McCarthy, Department of Public Instruction spokesman, Feb. 22, 2017
Interview with Amanda Brink, Evers campaign spokesperson, Feb. 22, 2017
Interview with Mark Glander, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data Surveys, Feb. 23, 2017
Interview with Joseph Murphy, National Center for Education Statistics, Feb. 23, 2017
Interview with Robert Stillwell, Administrative Data Division: Elementary and Secondary Branch, National Center for Education Statistics, Feb. 23, 2017
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, high school completion data files, accessed Feb. 23, 2017
U.S. Department of Education, Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2012, June 2015
National Center for Education Statistics, Public High School Graduation Rates, May 2016
National Center for Education Statistics, Dropouts, Completers and Graduation Rate Reports, Common Core of Data
National Center for Education Statistics, Table 1. Public high school 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR), by race/ethnicity and selected demographics for the United States, the 50 states, and the District of Columbia: School year 2014–15
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