TWIN FALLS | A new way of measuring high school graduation rates has raised the ire of Magic Valley school officials, who say numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Under a federal mandate, the Idaho Department of Education released data Wednesday for the 2013-14 school year.

It’s the first time the Gem State has used a new calculation. It measures the number of students who graduate with a regular high school diploma within four years.

Magic Valley High School -- an alternative school in Twin Falls -- has a 30 percent graduation rate. But that number is misleading and excludes students who actually finished, said L.T. Erickson, secondary programs director for the Twin Falls School District.

“When people see it, they don’t realize that Magic Valley is one of the greatest assets we have in our district,” he said.

Last school year, Magic Valley High had 145 seniors and 78 earned a high school diploma. But the state only counted 44 as graduates -- those who finished on time.

In Wendell, Superintendent Greg Lowe said he knows a student who graduated, but it took him five years.

“It was an exciting thing to have him graduate,” he said, but he was counted as a non-graduate.

“Even though we have a certain percentage of a graduation rate, we want our patrons to understand there are students who have succeeded in a different route.”

In the past, students who took longer than four years to finish high school were counted as graduates, said Nichole Hall with the Idaho Department of Education. Having them excluded now is a “major concern,” she said.

“That really hit districts hard,” Hall said. “And it’s hard on alternative schools, too, because they’re trying to get students serious about school.”

Idaho’s new graduation rate is 77.3 percent -- down from about 84 percent last year. But there’s no accurate way to compare with past years, Hall said.

Idaho’s high school graduation rate is 13th highest in the nation, Education Week reported last year.

The new graduation rate doesn't include 10.3 percent of students who earned a GED, a diploma under special education guidelines or alternative school students who are still working toward a diploma.

Only 2.9 percent of students were reported as "known or possible" dropouts.

The U.S. Department of Education adopted the new way of calculating graduation rates in 2008.

The goal is to create an accurate measurement and allow for uniform comparison among states.

It's “a good way to track every student,” Erickson said, but there are controversial points.

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Some students who finish their education are counted as non-graduates, including teenagers who earn a GED or special education students who graduate under an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Students with an IEP should be counted as graduates, Hall said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that they’re not.”

On Wednesday, the state released a graduation rate for each district, but not individual schools.

In the Twin Falls district, the overall graduation rate is 75 percent. District officials say Twin Falls High has a 94 percent graduation rate and Canyon Ridge stands at 88 percent.

In Cassia County, there’s an 88 percent graduation rate -- well above the state average -- under the new system.

“We don’t have a lot of kids who fall through the cracks,” district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said.

What happens if a student moves? They can be taken out of a school’s cohort, as long as there’s official documentation.

But if a ninth-grader moves away and his old school never hears from him again, he’ll be considered a non-graduate four years later, Erickson said.

School principals and registrars spend a lot of time tracking down students when they leave, he said.

“It’s not a perfect system. For us, we just have to know where they went."


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