Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Special Report
Federal

44 States Now Using the Same Grad.-Rate Formula

By Sterling C. Lloyd — June 01, 2012 5 min read

The No Child Left Behind Act broke new ground in 2002 by mandating that accountability decisions under the law take into account high school graduation rates along with test-score performance when determining whether a school or district made “adequate yearly progress.” Initial federal guidelines allowed—and states made use of—substantial latitude when implementing key NCLB provisions related to graduation. In the subsequent years, states went on to employ a variety of noncomparable methods for calculating graduation rates and to set very different targets for the percent of students expected to finish high school with a diploma. Prompted by ongoing concerns about the accuracy and uniformity of these state-reported graduation rates, the U.S. Department of Education in 2008 issued new regulations that required all states to transition toward a uniform, cohort-based method for calculating graduation rates and to use that rate for federal accountability purposes.

These new rules were to be phased in gradually, with states starting by publicly reporting rates using the new cohort method and, eventually, fully integrating the new rate into school- and district-level accountability determinations. As of this school year, all states are required to calculate and report high school graduation rates using the same formula. Formal accountability stakes will be added next year.

To mark this milestone, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center conducted an original 50-state survey to gauge state progress toward implementing the 2008 regulations. The center found that most states are on target to enact the graduation-rate requirements, although challenges do remain. The full report and detailed state-by-state tables are available online at www.edweek.org/rc.

Keeping Pace

In the simplest terms, the “four-year adjusted cohort rate” method mandated by the 2008 regulations requires states to use data on individual students tracked over time to determine what percent of students who enter the 9th grade in a given year (the “cohort”) have earned a regular diploma four years later. Under the new rules, as before, states retain considerable authority to define what constitutes a “regular” diploma.

That basic calculation may be “adjusted” to account for students who transfer into or out of a cohort after the start of the 9th grade. For example, a student who transfers into a new district within the same state during the 10th grade would be added to the appropriate graduating class in the receiving system (and removed from the cohort in the sending district). The regulations also outline limited situations—such as transfer to a private school, an out-of-state move, or death—where students may be removed from the statewide cohort, provided that proper documentation is produced.

According to the EPE Research Center, as of April 2012, 44 states (a tally that includes the District of Columbia) had publicly reported school-level graduation rates using the federal adjusted cohort method, as required by the 2008 regulations. Four additional states reported planning to release their cohort rates soon, but had not done so as of Diplomas Count’s publication deadline.

Uniformity Nationwide

The U.S. Department of Education now requires all states to calculate high school graduation rates using a common formula. According to a survey by the EPE Research Center, 44 states have publicly reported rates consistent with federal regulations.

DC UniformityNationwidep27  C1s

SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2012

Three states—Idaho, Kentucky, and Oklahoma—indicated they do not plan to report rates using the new federal formula this year. The U.S. Department of Education granted Idaho and Kentucky waivers to delay reporting of cohort-based graduation rates in light of challenges encountered implementing their statewide data systems. Oklahoma reported expecting to release rates compliant with the regulatory requirements by 2014, but did not provide additional details.

The 2008 regulations also required states to report disaggregated cohort graduation rates for specific student groups defined on the basis of race and ethnicity, poverty, disability status, and English-language proficiency. Thirty-seven states have publicly reported rates for each of these mandated groups; seven states have released results only in the aggregate. In addition, 29 states have posted detailed results by gender and 14 states have disaggregated graduation rates for other groups, such as migrant or “at risk” students.

A large majority of states are poised to meet the federal requirement to apply the adjusted cohort rate to accountability determinations for the 2011-12 school year. In fact, 23 states have already done so for 2010-11. All of the remaining states—with the exceptions of Idaho, Kentucky, and Oklahoma—reported planning to use cohort-based rates for 2011-12 accountability decisions.

Preparing to Plummet

Beyond calling attention to a lack of uniformity in graduation-rate calculations during the early NCLB years, researchers and policy analysts had also raised concerns that the particular formulas chosen by most states would tend to inflate their graduation rates relative to other, more accurate methods. As a result, it has long been anticipated that graduation rates in many states would drop—perhaps precipitously—upon switching to a cohort-based method.

Even a cursory review of data from states that have released data compliant with the 2008 regulations suggests that the reported rates for many states will be much lower according to the new cohort rate than they were under the previous methods. In the District of Columbia, for example, the reported graduation rate dropped from 73 percent to 59 percent after introducing a cohort-based rate; Georgia’s rate was also about 14 percentage points lower after the switch.

The difference in reported rates before and after introducing the cohort method will depend on a variety of factors, among them the accuracy of the previous calculation. Both the District of Columbia and Georgia discontinued a particular method—the leaver rate—that many experts believe to be particularly prone to artificially inflating the graduation rate. However, significant drops may be found even in states that previously reported cohort-based rates, as they implement other required changes related to accounting for transfers and defining a regular high school graduate. One such state, Florida, reports a federally compliant class of 2011 graduation rate of 70.6 percent, 9.5 points lower than the cohort-based rate currently used for accountability purposes.

The original research that appears in Diplomas Count 2012 was produced with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, at www.mott.org.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Director of Information Technology
Montpelier, Vermont
Washington Central UUSD
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Director of Athletics
Farmington, Connecticut
Farmington Public Schools
Head of Lower School
San Diego, California
San Diego Jewish Academy

Read Next

Federal Biden Signs Executive Order to Boost Food Benefits for Children Missing School Meals
The order is designed to extend nutritional benefits that his administration says would benefit children.
2 min read
The Washington family receives free meals at Dillard High School amid the virus outbreak and school closings on March 16, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A family receives free meals at Dillard High School amid the coronavirus outbreak and school closings on March 16, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Brynn Anderson/AP
Federal How Biden's Data Mandate Could Help Schools Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis
An executive order directs the Education Department to collect data on issues like whether schools offer in-person learning.
4 min read
President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, on Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, at the White House, on Jan. 21.
Alex Brandon/AP
Federal Early Education Department Appointees Have Links to Jill Biden, Teachers' Unions
President Joe Biden's 12 appointments have links to the players who could exert the most influence on the new administration's K-12 policy.
4 min read
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hug as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hug as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House on inauguration day.
Alex Brandon/AP
Federal Biden Launches New Strategy to Combat COVID-19, Reopen Schools
The president plans a more centralized strategy that includes broader vaccine efforts, more data on the pandemic, and new school guidance.
5 min read
Public School 95 in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn is one of many schools in New York ordered to close due to a flare-up of coronavirus cases in the area on Oct. 5, 2020.
Public School 95 in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn is one of many schools in New York ordered to close due to a flare-up of coronavirus cases in the area on Oct. 5, 2020.
Kathy Willens/AP