Special Report
Special Education

Graduation Rate Hits High, But Some Groups Lag

By Sterling C. Lloyd — May 29, 2015 4 min read

The on-time graduation rates in the nation’s public high schools have hit historic highs. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 81 percent of the class of 2013 graduated within four years, as tabulated by the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR). The ACGR, which states use to fulfill accountability requirements under the No Child Left Behind law, has climbed 2 percentage points since 2011, when the Education Department first started requiring states to calculate and report graduation rates using this method. Other methods for calculating graduation rates have shown similar upward trends.

Despite recent progress, students still face very different odds of on-time graduation depending upon where they live.

Geographic Gaps

The gap between the highest- and lowest-performing jurisdictions was 28 percentage points in 2013. At one end of the scale was Iowa, with a graduation rate of 90 percent; at the other end, 62 percent of the class of 2013 graduated on time in the District of Columbia. These same two jurisdictions also bookended the nation in 2011, when the gap between them was 29 percentage points. From 2011 to 2013, Nevada experienced the most growth (a gain of 9 percentage points) while graduation rates declined slightly in three states— Arizona, Illinois, and Wyoming. A caveat is that ACGR data was unavailable for Idaho in 2013 and from Kentucky and Oklahoma in 2011.

Subgroup Disparities

Data Download
Graduation in the United States PDF

Students with disabilities, the focus of Diplomas Count 2015, have a 62 percent on-time graduation rate, which is 19 percentage points lower than the overall national rate. Arkansas has the highest on-time graduation rate for students with disabilities (80 percent). In every state, graduation rates are lower for students with disabilities than for the student population at large. The largest gap—53 percentage points—is found in Mississippi, which has the nation’s lowest on-time graduation rate for students with disabilities (23 percent). Alabama has the smallest gap at 3 percentage points.

State Gaps Defined by Economic Status

Disparities in high school completion based on economic status vary from state to state. Graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students in three states—Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota—are more than 15 percentage points lower than the state average for all students. In five states and the District of Columbia, by contrast, economically defined divides in graduation fall below 5 points.

BRIC ARCHIVE

The on-time graduation rate for students with limited English proficiency (LEP) is 61 percent, 20 percentage points lower than the national average. In two states—Arizona and Nevada—fewer than a quarter of LEP students graduate on time.

Students from low-income families are also less likely to graduate on time, nationwide and for every state. Their graduation rate is 73 percent nationally, 8 percentage points lower than the U.S. average. Graduation rates for low-income students range from 85 percent in Kentucky and Texas to 59 percent in the District of Columbia. The poverty gap reaches 16 percentage points in Minnesota and shrinks to about 1 percentage point in Kentucky.

Among major racial and ethnic groups, on-time graduation rates range from 89 percent for Asians to 70 percent for American Indians. Although a large body of research suggests that black and Hispanic students have made large gains over the past decade, they continue to graduate at lower rates than Asians and whites.

State Gaps Defined by Disability Status

Graduation rates for students with disabilities, calculated using the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) method, are lower than the statewide average in every state, but gaps range from 53 percentage points in Mississippi to 3 percentage points in Alabama. The U.S. Department of Education cautions that variation in the way that states have implemented ACGR provisions may result in potential differences in calculations across states, particularly with respect to students with disabilities. Independent analysts have expressed concern that differences in how states define disability status for their graduation-rate calculations may contribute to variation in the size of gaps across the nation.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Diplomas Count 2015 marks the first time that the Education Week Research Center has used the ACGR as the main source of graduation data. Previously, the center used the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI), a proprietary method created by Christopher B. Swanson of Editorial Projects in Education, or the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, which is tabulated by the National Center for Education Statistics. Both of these methods rely on data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) database. Unlike these methods, the ACGR tracks individual students longitudinally, accounting for transfers and deaths.

An additional difference is that, for the purposes of the No Child Left Behind law, states are required to calculate this rate for students with disabilities and certain other groups whose graduation data are not tracked as part of the CCD.

Although states follow federal guidelines for their ACGR calculations, they are given some leeway, which can result in inconsistency with respect to implementation of those national rules. One source of inconsistency is that each state sets its own rules for determining which students are included in the subgroup cohorts for calculating the ACGR. For instance, a student who exits special education in grade 11 might be included in the special education graduation rate in one state, but not in another.

Definitions Vary

National Graduation Gaps

Students with additional economic and educational challenges graduate at lower rates, on average, than their more advantaged classmates. For the high school class of 2013, graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students (73 percent) are 8 percentage points lower than the national average. Gaps defined by disability and limited-English-proficiency status stand at 19 and 20 points, respectively.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Like the CPI and the AFGR, the ACGR is based on the number of students who receive a “regular high school diploma.” However, states have different definitions of “regular high school diploma” as well as different requirements for the coursework students must complete in order to qualify for regular diplomas. This variation may have a differential impact on subgroups of students.

A 2013 report by the education reform organization Achieve and the National Center on Educational Outcomes at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis provides two examples of this type of state-level variation specific to students with disabilities: Kentucky requires all students to complete 22 credits prior to earning a “regular high school diploma” but allows local school boards to substitute alternative courses for students with disabilities. In Arkansas, graduation course-credit requirements for students with disabilities are determined by the individualized education program (IEP), even when these students earn a “regular high school diploma.”

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Student Well-Being Online Summit Student Mental Health
Attend this summit to learn what the data tells us about student mental health, what schools can do, and best practices to support students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

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
Special Education Whitepaper
A Comprehensive Guide to the IEP Process
Download this guide to learn strategies for bringing together all stakeholders to plan an IEP that addresses the whole child; using relia...
Content provided by n2y
Special Education What Biden's Pick for Ed. Secretary Discussed With Disability Rights Advocates
Advocates for students with disabilities want Biden to address discipline and the effects of COVID-19 on special education.
2 min read
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, as Biden, right, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, look on.
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 23, 2020, as Biden, right, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, left, look on.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Special Education Schools Struggled to Serve Students With Disabilities, English-Learners During Shutdowns
The needs of students with IEPs and English-language learners were not often met after the pandemic struck, says a federal report.
3 min read
Young boy wearing a mask shown sheltering at home looking out a window with a stuffed animal.
Getty
Special Education How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory Services for Special Ed. Students?
States’ efforts so far suggest there won’t be enough money to go around for all the learning losses of students with disabilities from COVID-19 school shutdowns.
8 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
iStock/Getty