Something's changed. Here's the picture, and then I'll explain.
For years, some Kentucky students seemed to disappear after middle school. I'd take the count of students who showed up for eighth grade testing and four years later I'd add up the count of graduates and dropouts from that class--and I'd come up near 3,000 students short. Above, that mystery number is the final, darkest portion of the bar for each graduation year
Not this year. This year, fewer than 500 students seem to have gone missing.
In the graph above, I took graduates directly from the Department's reported number of graduates for each year. I calculated dropouts by taking the 12th grade dropout count for that year, the 11th grade count for the year before, and 10th and 9th from the years before that. Then I combined those two numbers and subtracted them from the students who participated in state testing four years back. The original eighth grade counts are shown below.
At a guess, the added accuracy is coming from the improved student information system that moved into full implementation two years ago, designed to track students individually from year to year and from school to school across the state.
Overall, though, it looks like a good sign: it looks as though we're getting closer to counting the students who don't collect diplomas accurately, and like we're also getting better at getting many of them through to high school graduation.
Source note: graduation and dropout numbers came from the Kentucky Department of Education's Nonacademic Indicators briefing, while testing counts came from the 2006 Kentucky Performance Report.