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State reports fewer dropouts

Florida had fewer dropouts and more high school graduates again last school year, according to figures released by the governor's office on Friday.

The statewide graduation rate improved to 69 percent in the 2002-03 school year, up from 67.9 percent the previous year. That means nearly 7 out of 10 Florida high school students graduated within four years.

"Thanks to the efforts of students, teachers, parents, and principals, we have kept more students in high school through graduation, while ensuring that a Florida diploma signifies real academic achievement," Gov. Jeb Bush said.

Four of five area school districts improved their graduation rates, including Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas. The Hillsborough schools showed a slight decrease but still had a graduation rate better than the state average, and better than all but one Tampa Bay area district.

Those are the rates, as calculated by the state. Other states calculate their graduation rates differently. One prominent education researcher has calculated his own graduation rates for all states and rated Florida's the lowest in the nation.

Researcher Jay Greene, who lives in South Florida, calculated Florida's 2001 graduation rate to be 56 percent, while the state reported a 63.8 percent rate that year. One difference in the calculation is that Greene excludes students who pass the GED (General Educational Development) test for a diploma from his graduation rates because those students are not getting traditional diplomas. Florida counts those who pass the GED test as graduates.

State education officials have dismissed Greene's calculations by pointing out that his are based on statistical sampling, while the state's official statistics are based on actual counts.

Florida also reported an improved dropout rate. The decrease from 3.2 percent to 3.0 percent was the result of improvements for minority as well as white students.

The Hispanic dropout rate fell 0.3 percent to 3.5 percent, while the African-American dropout rate decreased 0.1 percent to 3.8 percent. The dropout rate for white students also decreased 0.1 percent to 2.5 percent. Over the past five years, Hispanic and African-American dropout rates have improved at a faster rate than those for white students. Nevertheless, minority students still have higher dropout rates than white students.

The governor and Education Secretary Jim Horne were particularly pleased with the results because critics predicted that the state's new accountability measures would adversely affect the state's graduation and dropout rates. Last school year was the first time that students had to pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to get a standard diploma.

State graduation rates increase

Florida's graduation rate improved again last school year. The rate means that 69 percent of the state's high school students graduated within four years.

2000-01 2001-02 2002-03

Citrus 73.6% 71.2% 75.3%

Hernando 67.8% 74.0% 77.3%

Hillsborough 74.4% 77.5% 75.8%

Pasco 65.9% 71.7% 74.9%

Pinellas 64.4% 66.4% 69.0%

State 63.8% 67.9% 69.0%

Source: Florida Department of Education

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