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June 7, 2013

Big improvement in high school graduation rates

High School Graduation Rate Climbs to Highest Point in 40 Years

The annual Diplomas Count report, courtesy of the newspaper Education Week (EdWeek), was released yesterday, showing yet another steady increase in the national graduation rate over the past three years. EdWeek defines graduates as students who earn a standard diploma or better in four years. Along with the national graduation rate, EdWeek also provides graduation rates by state showing the trends from 2000 to 2010 and a breakdown by student subgroups. This year’s edition also highlights several articles concerning targeted dropout prevention and recovery programs throughout the country.

Overall, the report provides promising evidence that high schools across the country are nearing historic graduation levels. These upward trends also pave the way for promising future results, with significant gains to be had by students of racial minority backgrounds.

Encouraging Findings

  • The national on-time graduation rate reached 74.7 percent for the class of 2010.  This level parallels achievement in 1973, and is a nearly 2 percentage-point increase from the class of 2009.  
    • This is the third year of increases following modest declines in 2006 and 2007.
    • Over the past decade, the graduation rate improved by 8 percentage points (66.7 percent in 2000 to 74.7 percent in 2010).
    • Forty-six states have seen increases in their graduation rates over the past decade, with gains ranging from less than a percentage point to almost 32 points.
  • Continued improvements for historically underserved minorities bolster national graduation rate increases from 2009 to 2010.
    • Latinos saw an impressive 5.4 percentage point increase over this period.
    • African-Americans progressed upward by 3.3 percentage points.
  • From 2009 to 2010, the number of states graduating 80 percent or more of high school students rose from 4 to 13.
    • Iowa (83.2), New Jersey (83.1), North Dakota (84), and Wisconsin (83.7) were joined by Connecticut (82.2), Idaho (80), Kansas (80), Maine (80.5), Minnesota (80.4), Missouri (80.7), Pennsylvania (83), Tennessee (80.3), and Vermont (85).
  • Eight states showed increases of at least 5.0 percentage points from 2009-2010.
    • Connecticut (6.2 point increase to 82.2), Delaware (6 point increase to 73.9), Idaho (7.9 point increase to 80), Illinois (6.6 point increase to 77.8 percent), Kentucky (6.7 point increase to 77.2), Maine (8.2 point increase to 80.5), South Dakota (6.8 point increase to 76.3), and Vermont (7.6 point increase to 85).
  • All major ethnic and racial groups have shown overall improvement since 2000.
    • Latinos have produced significant gains of 16.3 percentage points, decreasing the Latino-White graduation gap.
    • African-American graduation rates have improved by 13.2 percentage points, causing a substantial narrowing of the African-American-White gap.
    • Native Americans have increased graduation rates over the decade, but fell by 2 percentage points from 2009 to 2010. This subgroup lags behind other ethnic groups with 51 percent of students graduating in 2010.  
  • An astounding 46 states have demonstrated decade-long growth in graduation rates.
    • Florida, George, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont each boast double-digit increases since 2000.

Findings of Concern

  • Graduation performance varies greatly by state.
    • Less than two-thirds of students earn their diploma in the District of Columbia (57), Georgia (64), Mississippi (64.4), Nevada (62.7), New Mexico (59.4), and South Carolina (61.5).
    • The largest state-level gap exists between the District of Columbia and Vermont, with a 28-percentage point disparity.
  • Male and female students are not graduating at comparable rates.
    • In 2010, 71.9 percent of males graduated compared to 78.4 percent of females.
    • This 6.5 percentage-point gap is a slight improvement on the 6.8 percent variance in 2009 (with 69.6 percent of males and 76.4 percent of females graduating).
  • Minority students are less likely to graduate than their White and Asian peers.
    • There is a 30-percentage-point gap dividing Asian (81.1 percent) and Native American (51.1 percent) students, the groups with the highest and lowest graduation rates, respectively. 
    • Significant graduation gaps exist across racial lines. The gap between Latinos (68.1 percent) and Whites (79.6 percent) is 11.5 percentage-points, while the gap between Black (61.7 percent) and White students is 17.9 percentage points.
  • Three states showed decreases of at least 5.0 percentage points from 2009-2010.
    • Arizona (5.1 point decrease to 67.2), New York (5.1 point decrease to 73.3), and Utah (7.1 point decrease to 71.3) each exhibited significant drop-offs in graduation rates.

For more information on how Education Week and others calculate graduation rates, check out the Center for Public Education’s Straight Story on High School Graduation Rates. Furthermore, check out the Center’s Better Late than Never to learn more about those students who took more than four years to graduate.

This summary was prepared by Christine Duchouquette, Policy Research Intern, and Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.






3 Responses to “Big improvement in high school graduation rates”

  1. Thanks for posting this review of the Education Week report.

    In our community we are working to increase the high school graduation rate. In California, our graduation rate is lower than most. But, we are focusing on that issue and attempting to improve it. Hopefully, we can keep the trend going.

  2. [...] week we reported the good news that high school graduation rates are continuing their ascent. But what does that diploma mean? CPE’s latest report, written in [...]

  3. [...] changes being affected nationwide in public education. (For a great example, read about the nation’s consistently climbing graduation rates courtesy of the Diplomas Count Report from Education Week.) The Review, however, highlights some [...]

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