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FL Investigating Graduation Rates Following ProPublica Report

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Image: Sunshine High School in Orlando is located in Oakhill Village, a strip mall on Old Winter Garden Road. (Malcolm Denemark/USA Today Network)

Florida is investigating graduation rates at alternative charter schools after a ProPublica report about an Orange County charter school that served as a “release valve” for nearby traditional high schools by taking in academically challenged students.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart says the department will be doing a thorough examination to determine if inappropriate actions presented a flawed portrayal of districts’ graduation data.

The ProPublica report says poor-performing students from Orlando-area schools, like Olympia High School, were encouraged at assemblies by charter representatives from Sunshine High School to transfer and catch up on credits. Once they got to high school located in a strip mall, some students said they would sit for hours a day in front of computers with little or no live teaching. This helped traditional schools manipulate the data to keep their graduation rates high by sending their worst achievers to Sunshine. Sunshine reported virtually no dropouts by classifying students who left as entering adult education programs, though the school couldn’t confirm whether that happened, ProPublica says.

Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins has called the article “false,” arguing it doesn’t benefit the district when students drop out after transferring to Sunshine because they’re still counted in the graduation rate. An OCPS spokesperson said the district looked into whether local high schools were pushing low-performing students out to charter schools and found no practice of forced placement.

The state’s review of graduation data will include a number of alternative charter schools, including Sunshine and will focus on seniors who transfer to these schools any time during their final year of high school.

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