With 80 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school, the Class of 2012 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history according to the 2014 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically since 2006, improving by eight percentage points in just six years. According to the report, if this rate of improvement continues the national graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020, a goal of the authors of Grad Nation.
While attainment gaps remain, the gap is narrowing between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. This is particularly true for the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, Hispanics, whose graduation rate jumped from 61 percent to 76 percent between 2006 and 2012 alone. Black students made significant gains during this period as well improving their graduation rate from 59 percent to 68 percent. During this same time period White students saw their graduation rate improve from 80 percent to 85 percent. At these rates the attainment gap between Hispanic and White students will disappear within five years. It would take another decade for the Black/White attainment gap to close completely.
While this is certainly good news it actually doesn’t provide a complete picture of the success in raising high school graduate rates. This is because these are only on-time graduation rates and do not include those students who take longer than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As CPE found in our report about late high school graduates, Better Late Than Never, our national high school graduation rate is likely about 5 percentage points higher if we include students who graduate within six years. This means that our public schools are likely graduating at least 85 percent of students. And since Black and Hispanic students are more likely to graduate late than their White classmates, the attainment gap is likely to be narrower as well. These are graduates who are far too often over looked as successes even though, as the Grad Nation report pointed out, districts across the nation have made significant efforts to get students back on the graduation track or re-enroll students who had dropped out completely to help them earn the same diplomas as their peers who graduated on-time. — Jim Hull