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Department of Education to Publish State High School Completion Rates

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The U.S. Department of Education will publish a common graduation rate for every state in an attempt to provide a clearer picture of how successful the states are in assuring students complete high school, the department’s second-ranking official told state policymakers here July 13.

The department will calculate each state’s graduation rate based on the number of high school graduates in a given year divided by the average of the number of students who entered the 8th grade five years earlier, the 9th grade four years earlier, and the 10th grade three years earlier. The so-called “averaged freshman graduation rate” will be published alongside the graduation rates that states report under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the department official said in a speech to state policymakers gathered here July 12-15 for the national conference of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

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“[The new calculation] has been shown to track very closely with true on-time graduation rates,” Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon told members of the ECS. “It makes it easier to understand, more accurate, and makes the system more transparent.”

Mr. Simon said the new state calculations will be reported on an interim basis and will provide a common measure of how well states are ensuring students are completing high school.

States have come under increasing criticism in recent years for publishing graduation rates that are misleading and not comparable across states. Some states, for example, calculate their graduation figures based on the percentage of seniors who earn their diplomas by the end of the school year—a measure that ignores students who drop out before reaching the 12th grade.

Mr. Simon said many states lack the data systems to provide more precise measures of their high school graduation rates. But the federal government will be able to calculate the “averaged freshman graduation rate” by using enrollment and other data already collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the federal agency.

Meanwhile, the National Governors Association on July 14 announced the first 10 states to receive grants of up to $2 million under a program aimed at improving graduation and college-readiness rates that was unveiled at the National Education Summit on High Schools in February. Financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several other philanthropies, the grants will be used for purposes that include improving state academic standards; aligning curricula and assessments to meet college-entrance requirements; promoting the need for high school reform to the public; expanding science, math, and technology education; and implementing systems for collecting and analyzing data, according to the NGA and the Seattle-based Gates Foundation.

The 10 states awarded grants are Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Washington State Granted Flexibility

In a separate section of his speech, Mr. Simon said the Education Department has granted Washington state permission to take into account students who take more than four years to graduate for determining adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law. The state also will continue to publish a graduation rate measuring what percentage of students earn their diploma in four years, but can use the extended time period for accountability purposes.

“We want to see incentives created to encourage dropouts to return to school,” Mr. Simon said. “This change is a positive step forward.”

While other states have received permission to take into account in their graduation rates students with limited English or those with disabilities who take more than four years to graduate, Washington state’s provision could apply beyond those special populations.

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Web Resources
  • Read Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon's remarks about the agency's "averaged freshman graduation rate" calculation.
  • The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to prepare and release a yearly report on their high school graduation rates, in addition to other information. The Education Commission of the States describes which of the NCLB indicators are included in state, district, and school reports to the public. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • One of the focuses of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is ensuring that all students graduate from high school. Read the foundation's news release about the NGA's grant awards to 10 states. And read the NGA's release about the awards.
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