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School Leaders Challenge College Grad Study

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Some school superintendents in Fairfield County dispute the findings of a state study that shows mediocre college graduation rates for area students.

In 2004, a total of 35,671 students graduated from public high schools in Connecticut. One third of that number started college but never finished, and 26 percent never entered college. Only 41 percent of those students earned degrees in the past six years, the study says.

Mary Kolek, deputy superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools, said the study is “one data point.” But she says the Board of Regents report conflicts with the district’s own statistics that say 90 percent of New Canaan High School graduates from 2004 went on to graduate from college. According to the report, of the 258 students who graduated in 2004, just 62 percent earned college degrees.

“It’s just one number, and it’s a composite number (and) it definitely doesn’t match the data that we have,” Kolek said, adding that the district tries to track its graduates. “We need to stay in touch with our graduates so as the world changes so rapidly, we are able to do the best job.”

The P-20 Council , the Board of Regents for Higher Education and the State Department of Education analyzed data collected by National Student Clearinghouse , a nonprofit organization that verifies and reports student degree and enrollment across the country.

Higher expectations

Of the 255 students who graduated from Wilton High in 2004, just 69 percent graduated from college, the study says. Wilton Superintendent Gary Richards said he checked with the high school administration and no one had any idea where the Board of Regents got its data, adding the district does not track rates of college graduation and does not subscribe to the National Student Clearinghouse.

“We expect that our graduates would have a far higher rate of success in college than the state average,” said Richards.

In Stamford, 39 percent of the 426 students in the class of 2004 from Stamford High graduated from college. At Stamford’s Westhill High, 39 percent of the 480 students earned college degrees. Just 20 percent of the 61 students who graduated from the Academy of Information Technology & Engineering earned college degrees, the study says.

Stamford’s interim superintendent, Winifred Hamilton, said more than one statistic is needed to measure how students are truly doing. “It’s something to look at, but not the end of the story,” she said.

Inaccurate Data?

In Greenwich, 53 percent of the 598 students in the class of 2004 went on to earn college degrees. Interim Superintendent Roger Lulow said in looking into the report, the district has found inaccuracies in the data.

“Just to give you an example, our records show in 2004 there were 565 graduates, but the study says 598. Our records show 509 kids went on to two- or four-years colleges, but the study showed 472,” said Lulow.

“Part of the difference in the enrollment in colleges is that some colleges, like Sacred Heart, did not participate in the study. So our numbers come up totally different when we compare our base number of graduates to the number that show going on to college and completing it.”

For students from Easton and Redding who attend Joel Barlow High School in Redding, 66 percent of the 200 who graduated in 2004 earned college degrees. Bernard Josefsberg, superintendent for Barlow’s district, said the numbers, at the very least, raise questions that require additional investigation.

“What experiences might account for why a minority of the Class of 2004 did not complete college? What school factors are implicated? What non-school factors?  How would data about the Class of 2004 stack up against data from subsequent classes?” said Josefsberg. “The answers to these and related questions, as I say, require more study.”

Elsewhere in Fairfield County

Here are the rest of the percentages of Fairfield County class of 2004 students who earned college degrees or certificates in the past six years, according to the report:

• Darien High School: 63 percent of 248 students

• Fairfield Ludlowe did not have a senior class in 2004

• Fairfield Warde: 57 percent of 523 students

• Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk: 38 percent of 299 students

• Briggs High School in Norwalk: percent of 23 students

• Norwalk High School: 41 percent of 358 students

• Weston High: 72 percent of 132 students

• Staples High in Westport: 71 percent of 313 students

View the full report here.

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