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Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Metadata: Solving the Case of the Inaccurate Dropout Count, Chapter 4

Continued from Exhibit 3.4.

The next morning, Mr. Howell called a meeting of Lincoln High School's administrative staff. "Okay, we've got a data problem," he said. He saw a few faces glaze over and decided to emphasize how important this work was, "But don't you dare think this is an unimportant administrative chore." He showed his staff the faulty dropout data submitted to the state. His team members sat up, troubled by the numbers that so unfairly represented their hard work resolving Lincoln's dropout problem. "But that isn't our dropout rate," the vice principal interjected. "I know that and you know that," Principal Howell answered. "But that's what the rest of the state will think unless we figure out where we made a mistake... That's right, the problem originated here, and we need to get it straightened out."

Four hours later, the administrative leaders were still stumped. "I just don't get it," the vice principal said with a grimace. "The numbers add up correctly on the form, but somehow they result in a dropout rate that is incorrect. We've gone over this three times, and nothing is changing." At that very second, Ms. Johnson, the administrative assistant, began to stammer. "Hold on... hold on... hold on..." she said with growing conviction. "Just hold on and look at this." All eyes turned to her as she explained what she had found. "I went back to the original coding instructions. They're not the same codes we use." And sure enough, they weren't. Ms. Johnson continued. "Notice, the first two codes are the same... I bet someone saw that and just assumed the rest were the same as they have always been for the data we send the district."

Lincoln High School Exit Codes Dropout Report Exit Codes
1. Still enrolled 1. Still enrolled
2. Transferred 2. Transferred
3. Completed 3. Dropped out
4. Dropped out 4. Completed
5. Exited—neither completed nor dropped out 5. Not enrolled, eligible to return
6. Other 6. Exited—neither completed nor dropped out

Principal Howell called Mr. Olsen, the district's data manager, and asked him to check the codes. Mr. Olsen realized immediately that this was probably the root of the problem. "Yeah, the state adopted a new code set. I'm sure we sent out a notice, but evidently it fell through the cracks somewhere along the way. I'll run the numbers with the changed codes, but I'd be very surprised if this doesn't fix things." Principal Howell and Mr. Olsen let out a sigh of relief and looked forward to sharing the good news with Superintendent Sanders.

Continued in Exhibit 5.2.