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Equity & Diversity

U.S. Graduation Rate Breaks Another Record

By The Education Week Research Center — June 02, 2016 2 min read

Graduation rates are on the rise again.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, the on-time graduation rate for the nation’s public high schools has reached another all-time high.

Eighty-two percent of the class of 2014 graduated with a regular high school diploma within four years, as measured by the Education Department’s Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, or ACGR. The graduation rate rose by a full percentage point from the prior year and by 3 percentage points since 2011, when the department first started requiring states to calculate and report graduation rates using this method. Graduation rates in roughly half the states reached or exceeded the 85 percent mark for the class of 2014.

The consistent upward trajectory captured by the ACGR in recent years mirrors results from other measures that track trends in the high school graduation rate over longer periods of time.

Although the graduation rate for the nation as a whole has improved over the years, progress has been far from uniform, and critical gaps remain.

Where students live still very much matters when it comes to their chances of graduating with a diploma in four years. Thirty percentage points separate the states with the highest and lowest on-time graduation rates forthe class of 2014. Iowa leads the nation, with 91 percent of its students graduating on time. At the other extreme, only 61 percent graduated on time in the District of Columbia, which is considered a state for the purposes of this analysis.

Graduation rates are on the rise in most states. From 2013 to 2014, rates increased in 35 states, while holding steady in nine states and decreasing in six. (Data for the class of 2013 were not available for Idaho.) Delaware and Alabama made the biggest strides, increasing on-time graduation rates by 7 percentage points and 6 percentage points, respectively. The biggest loss was in Oklahoma, where graduation rates fell 2 percentage points.

Racial, Poverty Gaps Continue to Narrow

An even stronger picture of progress emerges when taking a longer view. Since the class of 2011, the nation’s overall on-time graduation rate has risen by 3 percentage points. And all but three of the states reporting data posted gains over that period. Changes over time could not be calculated for Idaho, Kentucky, and Oklahoma because ACGR data were not reported for 2011.

Consistent with long-term trends, members of the class of 2014 from historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups are much less likely to finish high school. On-time graduation rates for white students, at 87 percent, outpace those for their American Indian, 70 percent; black, 73 percent; and Latino, 76 percent, peers by considerable margins. With an 89 percent graduation rate, Asian students graduate at the highest rates.

Data Download
Graduation in the United States PDF

That said, gains among lower-performing groups have been particularly strong in recent years, helping to narrow racial and ethnic achievement gaps.

Other Groups Join in Gains

The federal agency also releases results for students based on their English-proficiency and disability status. The on-time graduation rate for both English-language learners and students with disabilities is 63 percent for the class of 2014, a level 19 percentage points lower than the average for the nation as a whole. Improvements for those groups have also outpaced the U.S. average, with gains of 6 percentage points since 2011 for English-learners and 4 points for students with disabilities.

Coverage of trends in K-12 innovation and efforts to put these new ideas and approaches into practice in schools, districts, and classrooms is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York at www.carnegie.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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