Preliminary Data Shows Signs of Improvement Among High School Graduation Rates, More Data to Come

Graduation rates are an indicator of how well prepared a state’s students will be for college and careers. So, it’s particularly encouraging that many states are improving their graduation rates, according to data released earlier today that details preliminary four-year high school graduation rates in 2011-12. This is the second year for which all states used a common, rigorous measure to indicate how many students receive diplomas.

The data shows that 16 states reported graduation rates at or above 85 percent, compared to only nine states who reported the same graduation rates in 2010-2011 – indicating a small but encouraging sign of improvement. Today’s data release also shows that Iowa’s high school graduation rate was the highest in the country in 2011-12 at 89 percent. Because states are still working out the details of calculating and reporting the new cohort rate, changes in reported rates from 2010-11 to 2011-12 might not represent actual changes in graduates and any year-to-year comparisons should be interpreted with caution.

Building off this newly available data, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) will release a report in early 2014 on on-time graduation rates for school years 2010-11 and 2011-12. On-time graduation rate indicators provide a measure of the percent of students that successfully complete high school in four years with a regular high school diploma.

Before last year, the varying methods used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable. The new, common metric – in its second year of use – gives states, districts and schools a chance to promote greater accountability and to develop strategies that will reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide. There continues to be some variance in how it is implemented in each state, leading to some marginal accounting differences between states.

The transition to a common, adjusted four-year cohort graduation rate reflects states’ efforts to create greater uniformity and transparency in reporting high school graduation data, and it meets the requirements of October 2008 federal regulations. A key goal of these regulations was to develop a graduation rate that provides parents, educators and community members with better information on their school’s progress while allowing for meaningful comparisons of graduation rates across states and school districts. The graduation rate measurement used now also accurately accounts for students who drop out, transfer, or who do not earn a regular high school diploma within four years.

These 2011-12 graduation rates are state-reported data, and states are responsible for verifying the accuracy of these data. The rates are a key element of state accountability systems. States that have been approved for ESEA flexibility are required to use the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate as a significant element in their school accountability systems and are currently doing so now.

The 2011-12 data can be viewed here using the Build a State Table Tool, under Achievement Data > Graduation Rate Data > Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates: 2011-12.