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PolitiFact Florida: Crist claims highest graduation rate ever

Gov. Charlie Crist waves after completing his State of the State address Tuesday night. 

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Gov. Charlie Crist waves after completing his State of the State address Tuesday night. 

The statement

"Our graduation rate is the highest it's ever been."

Charlie Crist on Tuesday in his State of the State address.

The ruling

In this final State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Crist highlighted Florida's progress in many areas. In addition to lower crime rates and money to restore the Everglades, Crist devoted a significant portion of his speech to education.

Among other statistics, Crist made this superlative claim: "Our graduation rate is the highest it's ever been."

We figured this statement came with an unspoken asterisk similar to weather records ("since official records began") or baseball statistics ("the Modern Era"). There probably was a graduation rate in 1845 when Florida became a state, but it makes little sense to compare it to today's rate.

Despite the statistical obstacles, we wanted to know: Is Florida's graduation rate at its highest point ever?

Starting in 1975, there are three years with higher graduation rates than the current year. But previous calculations varied widely and comparing those rates with those from the Modern Era simply isn't valid.

Now, the Modern Era of Florida's graduation rate began in the 1998-99 school year, when the state began tracking groups of students instead of simply dividing the number of diplomas by the freshman class four years earlier. Previous formulas did not account for transfer students and counted more groups of students as earning diplomas.

The More Accurate Modern Era began in 2004-05, when a new measure stopped including students who earned their diplomas by passing the GED test in the rate. So "ever" in Crist's quote means five years, or at best 10.

The U.S. Department of Education will require all states to move to a standard system by next school year. For the transition, Florida has moved to a similar "cohort" rate developed by the National Governors Association in 2005. Unlike the 1998 rate, it only counts diplomas and does not include students who earned them by passing the GED test.

Okay, enough about the methodology. On to the numbers! Under the 1998 rubric, Florida's graduation rate has steadily increased every year, except for a dip in 2005-06. It rose from 60.2 percent to 78.6 percent in 2008-09 — the highest under that formula.

For the NGA calculation —which is the figure trumpeted by Crist's office in December 2009 as the "highest ever" — Florida's rate has increased from 69.7 percent in 2004-05 to 76.3 percent last year. Again, that topped the mercury level on the graduation rate thermometer.

In his speech to lawmakers, Crist claimed the state's graduation rate is "the highest it's ever been." And several formulas say that's true — to varying degrees. But Joe Citizen doesn't think of "ever" as beginning in 2005, or even 1999. We understand that accurate statistics only go back so far, but Crist could have been more clear. We rate his statement Mostly True.

PolitiFact Florida staff writer Lee Logan. This ruling has been edited for print. For the full version — and to read other rulings — go to politifact.com/florida.

PolitiFact Florida: Crist claims highest graduation rate ever 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 10:12pm]
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