Florida has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country, according to preliminary data released this week by the federal government.
For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education has put out a state-by-state comparison of graduation rates using a common method of calculation. It showed that Florida's 71 percent graduation rate in the 2010-2011 school year put it among the worst in the nation.
Only five states -- Alaska, Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon -- and Washington, D.C., had lower graduation rates that year.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Rita Solnet, a Boca Raton mother and founding member of the advocacy group Parents Across America. "Nobody is focusing on learning and growth. Everyone is fixated on tests."
Bill Montford, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said caution should be used when comparing rates, because each state has different graduation requirements.
Montford said people need to look at not only graduation rates but also factors like the number of students taking advanced classes or leaving high school prepared for the workforce, to get a good picture of education in Florida.
"That being said," he added, "the numbers I've seen for Florida are unacceptable.... As a state, we have to properly and adequately fund education. In the last few years, funding has been cut out of necessity, because of the way the economy has been."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott this spring approved a $1 billion increase in school spending, partially restoring the $1.3 billion he slashed from the education budget in his first year in office.
The new federal method for calculating graduation rates looks at the number of students who graduate high school in four years with a standard diploma. It does not include students who earn special diplomas or GEDs.
In the past, states had been able to use their own methods of calculating graduation rates, making state-to-state comparisons "unreliable," the Department of Education said in a press release.
Previously, Florida's graduation rate calculation included students who earned special diplomas. Under its own formula, it had reported an 80.1 percent graduation rate for 2011. In February, it recalculated its graduation rates under the new formula, dropping its rate to 70.6 percent.
As part of that recalculation, Palm Beach County had a graduation rate of 74.3 percent in 2010-2011 under the federal formula.
The federal government's preliminary list includes the four-year graduation rates for 47 states, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education. Graduation rates from Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico were not included.
Jaryn Emhof of the Foundation for Florida's Future -- an education policy group started by former Gov. Jeb Bush -- noted that Florida's graduation rate has been rising, and said that Florida has more "challenging" student demographics than some other states. She said that more than 57 percent of Florida students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
"Florida has work to do to improve graduation requirements, but the numbers are headed in the right direction," Emhof said. States' high school graduation rates:
Iowa: 88 percent.
Vermont: 87 percent.
Wisconsin: 87 percent.
Florida: 71 percent.
Louisiana: 71 percent.
Alaska: 68 percent.
Oregon: 68 percent.
Georgia: 67 percent.
New Mexico: 63 percent.
Nevada: 62 percent.
--Note: Preliminary data. Graduation rates for Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico were not included in the list released this week.
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