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Which States Have Seen the Most Progress (or None at All) on Graduation Rates?

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 18, 2016 2 min read
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As you may have heard, the national graduation rate hit an all-time high of 83.2 percent for the 2014-15 school year. But there’s more to the story.

The U.S. Department of Education has already given us a list of states with the biggest increases in graduation rates in terms of percentage points—Alabama was the biggest winner here, with an increase of nearly 18 percentage points. But which states have made the most progress relative to where they stood before?

To answer that, let’s go a simple step further and see which states’ have seen the largest increases in graduation rates as a percentage of where their graduation rates stood in 2010-11. (Remember, that was the first year all states and D.C. began using a single method for calculating graduation rates.)

Once again, Alabama comes out on top here. But which other states are top performers in this area? See the chart below:

So what about the states with the top graduation rates now, compared to 2010-11? Check out the top performers now and five years ago in the chart below (note that some states do not appear for both years):

So the best performers are fairly consistent here, with Iowa, Nebraska, and Texas all remaining in the top five. Not only that, those three states kept their ranks of first, fourth, and fifth in this category from 2010-11 to 2014-15.

What about those at the back of the pack? Here’s a then-and-now comparison along the same lines as the chart directly above:

Overall, most states experienced at least a modest gain in their graduation rates. In fact, among states that provided data from 2010-11 to 2014-15, every state except Arizona and Wyoming had gains in their graduation rates of at least 1 percent. (Kentucky and Oklahoma did not providing data until 2012, while Idaho did not begin doing so until 2013.) Click here for a more detailed state-by-state breakdown.

And keep in mind that there’s a good deal of skepticism about whether rising graduation rates represent clear and unadulterated progress. For example, Achieve President Mike Cohen said that the rise in graduation rate is a “positive development,” he’s skeptical that those diplomas are truly meaningful in many cases.

"[F]or too many new graduates, a high school diploma is still a ticket to nowhere rather than a passport to opportunity. For many new graduates, their high school diplomas only provide them with a false sense of achievement and with little ability to enter the workforce or college without significant remediation,” Cohen said in a statement.

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Alex Harwin, Research Analyst contributed to this article.