Elia defends Hillsborough's graduation rate
Better late than never, here's a detailed response from the Hillsborough County school district to last month's story by Ron Matus and Connie Humberg on Florida's big graduation rate loophole.
Hillsborough hasn't been shy about promoting the fact that its rate tops other big districts.
“We have one of the highest graduation rates not only in Florida but the (entire) Southeast, over 82 percent,” said superintendent MaryEllen Elia at a School Board meeting last August.
The loophole? Hillsborough has also been transferring substantially more students into adult education programs than other districts, and the state formula currently doesn't count those kids in calculating the graduation rate. If they were counted, Hillsborough's rate would fall from 82.3 percent to 70.4 percent, down from first to fourth place among the state's seven largest districts.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Elia didn't dispute those figures, but said they reflect her district's efforts to keep potential dropouts in school.
“We have students in this district who need to have different programming, and it may not include 24 credits and an FCAT,” she said. “Every kid has to be looked at, and what we try to do is provide an option for a kid who says, ‘I’m leaving.’”
Elia said Hillsborough's career and technical centers are places "where we know kids can be successful. And if we didn’t provide those alternate programs, they wouldn’t be."
"That doesn’t mean that we have to give up the responsibility of trying to keep kids mainstreamed to the extent we can," she added. "I will say to you that we have to work hard on that and continue to work at it. But I think it’s critical to offer lots of options for kids."
In any case, Elia said, it's the state -- not Hillsborough -- that calculates the graduation rate.
"My only point is, I don’t do all those numbers," she said. "Those are done after careful consideration by the state. I follow their numbers and their rules, and when they say this is our rate, it’s the same for everybody else."