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1998-99 Changes to the School Performance Report

Beginning with the 1998-99 school year, the Department of Public Instruction revised the School Performance Report to incorporate changes in state law, and to provide more meaningful statistics on Wisconsin's public school population in accordance with suggestions from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). A summary of each of the changes follows:

Change: Dropouts

The department changed the definition of dropout to conform with that suggested by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and used by more than 30 states.

  • Time at which dropouts are collected: Prior to the 1998-99 school year, Wisconsin used an event dropout count. In other words, dropouts were counted for one year. The new count is done as of the third Friday in September of the school year following the reporting year. In other words, this method "acknowledges" that students who leave school but return by the beginning of the following school year are not dropouts.
  • Summer dropouts: Students who complete a school year successfully are expected to enroll the following year. If they do not re-enroll they are dropouts (except for seniors who graduate) in the second year.
  • GED preparation program: A student covered by the compulsory education law (s.118.15(1)) can only be enrolled in a GED preparation program and take the GED test as a component of a High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) program. These students are not dropouts. Students not covered by s.118.15(1) who enroll in a GED preparation program and take the GED test that is not in conjunction with the students local school district are counted as dropouts.

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Change: Graduation rate


DPI made a minor change in the definition of a graduate and a major change in the calculation of graduation rate.

To be useful, a calculation or rate must be defensible. Wisconsin's previous graduation rate calculation, while easy to explain, was not defensible. The calculation that was used historically had a numerator of "graduates" and a denominator of "third Friday in September enrollment of 12th graders."

The ideal way to look at graduation would be to track the true cohort or those students who began the 9th grade together. This would not only eliminate all biases but would also be 100 percent accurate, credible, and defensible. This approach, however, infers use of an individual student tracking system.

State members of NCES met last year and proposed a graduation rate calculation that best addresses all biases, is credible and defensible, and relies on data already being collected:

Graduates / (Graduates + 9DRS + 10DRS + 11DRS + 12DRS)

The new calculation is the number of graduates divided by the sum of graduates plus dropouts over four years (9DRS are 9th-grade dropouts three years ago, etc.). It is credible and easy to explain: It compares the number of students who leave school successfully (graduate) to the number of students who leave school unsuccessfully (dropout). It is also not affected by retention.


  • Accounts for all systematic sources of bias except the effect of dropouts who return, which is felt to be small.
  • Easy to explain as a believable graduation rate for general audiences.
  • Easy to calculate and requires no additional collection from LEAs.
  • Good for kids in that it does not penalize school districts for trying to keep students in school even if it takes them more than four years to graduate.


  • Estimates but does not replicate a true cohort.
  • Does not identify on-time graduates (those who graduate in four years).
  • Does not answer the question:  What is a graduate (the numerator)?

In the past, a HSED or GED completer was counted as a graduate for the School Performance Report if "the local school district issues a regular diploma" to recognize the act. The department is studying that "policy." Pending a decision, HSED and GED are not included in the count of graduates.

For more information about GED and HSED, check "Change: Dropouts."

Change: Habitual truancy

The Wisconsin Legislature, in 1997 Wisconsin Act 239, changed the definition of habitual truancy.

Prior to passage of Act 239, the School Performance Report said "a habitual truant is a student who is absent from school without an acceptable excuse for part or all of five or more days out of 10 consecutive days on which school is held during a semester or part or all of 10 or more days on which school is held during a school semester."

AB 686 changed the definition to: "A habitual truant means a pupil who is absent from school without an acceptable excuse for part or all of 5 or more days on which school is held during a school semester."

In other words, AB 686 eliminated the idea of "consecutive days" and shortened the threshold for habitual truancy in a semester from 10 days to 5 days.

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