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College & Workforce Readiness

Diplomas Count Wraps Up Decade-Long Run

By The Editors — June 02, 2016 3 min read
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Ten years ago, when Education Week published its first edition of Diplomas Count, states’ high school graduation rates were all over the map.

While the No Child Left Behind Act at the time required all states to report annual high school graduation rates, it didn’t specify how they should do it. Launched in 2006, Diplomas Count sought to bring more clarity to the issue by using a common measure to calculate graduation rates for every school district in the country and report results for the nation as a whole, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the nation’s largest districts.

That measure, called the Cumulative Promotion Index, was developed by Christopher B. Swanson, who is now the vice president for research and development for Editorial Projects in Education, Education Week‘s nonprofit parent corporation. Drawing from a federal data set, the index estimates the probability that a student in the 9th grade will complete high school on time with a regular diploma.

Diplomas Count projected that about 30 percent of the class of 2006—about 1.2 million students—would not graduate on time that year. State rates ranged from a low of 52.5 percent in South Carolina to a high of 84.5 percent in New Jersey, and almost all of them were lower than the graduation rates that the states themselves had reported to the federal government for the same cohort of students.

Fast-forward to 2016. The national picture is vastly different. All states are now required to use a common yardstick to measure and report graduation rates, the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate. It tracks individual students over time, capturing the percent of freshmen in an entering high school class who graduate four years later. The U.S. Department of Education first reported rates using the new method in 2012, releasing results for 47 states and the District of Columbia for the class of 2011.

Thanks to such advances in state and federal reporting practices, the need for the type of uniform, independent analysis provided by Diplomas Count has become less urgent. Significant delays in the release of the federal data used in Education Week‘s original analyses have also complicated timely reporting by Diplomas Count in recent years. With those considerations in mind, we will end Diplomas Count‘s decade-long run with this 2016 edition.

Education Week remains committed, at the same time, to highlighting issues critical to the goal of ensuring that all students get an equal opportunity to earn a high school diploma that prepares them for college or other study and for rewarding careers. Over the years, Diplomas Count—in addition to its annual graduation-rate analysis—has provided a platform for in-depth reporting on such aspects of that goal as the education of English-language learners and students with disabilities, career and technical education, dropout-prevention and dropout-recovery efforts, the nationwide move to higher academic standards, and, in this year’s report, high school redesign.

Reporting on those topics and related ones continues in Education Week, both in print and online. We’ve launched, for example, the High School & Beyond blog—written by veteran reporter Catherine Gewertz—precisely to explore the forces shaping students’ pathways to college and career.

Graduation rates, meanwhile, have steadily improved during the past decade, possibly because of the increased focus on high school graduation by the federal government and outside organizations of all kinds, including Education Week. In this year’s most recently available figures, the national average reached another all-time high: 82 percent for the class of 2014. Inequities remain, even as some racial and ethnic graduation gaps narrow or close. But the overall picture is one of progress.

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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