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November 11, 2015

More students are graduating but are they leaving high school prepared?

Last month the U.S. Department of Education released preliminary data showing the U.S. is on-track to set yet another record on-time high school graduation rate. While a preliminary national rate was not provided, the data showed that at least 36 states have increased their graduation rates over the previous year which reported an unprecedented 81 percent on-time rate nationally.

Another report was released yesterday by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and Everyone Graduates Center showing the recent increase in on-time graduation has led to the number of high school dropouts to fall from 1 million in 2008 to 750,000 in 2012. Over the same time period the number of so-called ‘Drop Out Factories’– high schools that fail to graduate at least 60 percent of their students within four years—decreased from just over 1,800 to 1,040 schools. These are dramatic decreases in such a short amount of time by any measure. But these decreases are made even more impressive by the fact that between 2002 and 2008 the number of dropouts increased by over 25,000 while the number of ‘Drop-out Factories’ fell by less than 200.

More students may be graduating high school but does that necessarily mean more students are finishing high school with the skills they need to succeed in college or the workplace? This is the big question. If high schools are just handing out pieces of paper to any student who attends for four years, a higher graduation rate doesn’t mean much of anything. Yet, if more students are graduating college and career ready, then indeed the record graduation rate is something to celebrate.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to determine how many students are graduating college and career ready, at least at the national level. Reason being, each state sets its own requirement for obtaining a high school diploma. In fact, a number of states set different requirements for different types of high school diplomas. A recent report from Achieve found 93 diploma options across all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the Class of 2014. The report noted that only 5 states (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) require their students to meet college and career ready standards in math and English Language Arts (ELA) to earn a high school diploma. Meaning, these are the only states whose graduation rates are the same as the percent of graduates who are college and career ready.

This doesn’t mean that other states don’t have college and career readiness requirements to earn a high school diploma. In fact, 26 other states offer at least one diploma aligned with college and career standards. However, these states also offer multiple diplomas where students may still graduate high school without meeting college and career ready expectations by either opting out of the college and career ready requirements or choosing not to opt in. Moreover, just 9 of these states publicly report the percentage of students earning college and career ready aligned diplomas. So only in 14 states do we know what percent of high school graduates finish high school ready for college or the workforce.

The lack of alignment between diploma requirements and college-career ready standards may lead some to conclude the recent rise in graduation rates is due to a lowering the bar to graduation. But that would be wrong. Achieve’s most recent annual Closing the Expectations Gap report shows the bar to a high school diploma has been raising in most states—not falling. In fact, when Achieve first started examining high school graduation requirements in 2004 not a single state aligned their graduation requirements to college and career standards, and only Arkansas and Texas required students to pass an advanced Algebra course to earn a high school diploma. Since that time a number of states have adopted similar requirements for high school diploma.

The good news, then, is that graduation rates are not increasing simply by giving out more diplomas, but by more students meeting more rigorous graduation requirements. The bad news is it is still unclear how many of those requirements are aligned with college and career standards. Knowing how many students complete high school college and career ready is vitally important for policymakers in order to make more informed decisions to ensure all students leave high school prepared for postsecondary success. – Jim Hull

October 19, 2015

State graduation rates continue to climb

Even though the high school Class of 2013 reached a record on-time graduation rate of 81 percent,  it appears like the Class of 2014 is poised to pass their classmates. According to preliminary data released this afternoon from the U.S. Department of Education, 36 states saw improvements in their on-time high school graduates rates over the past year. On the other hand, just six states saw a decrease in their graduation rates while in another eight states graduation rates remained unchanged.

Unfortunately, the national on-time graduation rate won’t be available until early next year once the National Center on Education Statistics validates each state’s graduation data. Yet, with these preliminary results showing nearly three-quarters of states continuing to graduate a greater proportion of students who entered 9th grade four years earlier, it is all but certain the national graduation rate will surpass last year’s record breaking 81 percent on-time graduation rate.

The good news doesn’t end there either. The preliminary results show that our high schools are narrowing the graduation gaps between their traditionally disadvantaged students and more advantaged peers as well. In fact, 28 states narrowed the graduation gap between their black and white students while 32 states narrowed their Hispanic/white gap. Moreover, 23 states have been able to narrow the graduation gap between their economically disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers as well as between Limited English Proficient students and their English Proficient peers. States haven’t been as successful in narrowing the graduation gap between their students with disabilities and those without but still 21 states were more successful in doing so this year than last.

These preliminary results certainly show many of our high schools are on the right track, yet, they also show there is a whole lot more work to be done. While graduating 8 out of 10 students who enter the 9th grade within four years is a tremendous accomplishment, there are still many more students who never graduate high school. Students who leave high school without a diploma are likely in for a rough road ahead as they are much more likely to be unemployed and earn significantly less in wages than their peers who graduated with a standard high school diploma.  And all signs point to the job market getting more difficult in the coming years for those without a high school diploma, so it is imperative that our high schools keep the momentum going until all students graduate high school with at least a standard high school diploma. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Graduation rates,High school,Public education — Jim Hull @ 3:56 pm

June 17, 2015

NPR Questions Historic Graduation Rate

As I have written a couple times (here and here) the U.S. high school graduate rate has hit an all-time high of 81 percent this year. This is great news that should be celebrated.

However, last week NPR ran a serious of reports questioning whether indeed 8 out 10 9th graders graduate four years later. They even stated “… this number should be taken with a grain of salt.”

Why is NPR so skeptical of the 81 percent on-time graduation rate? Well, it is because they uncovered possible loopholes in some states that could be used to bolster graduation rates without in fact preparing more students for college and career success. For example, NPR points out:

  • At-risk students are transferring to less rigorous alternative schools or entering credit recovery programs.
  • Schools are pushing out at-risk students to alternative schools so if the student drops out, it doesn’t count against the original school’s graduation rate.
  • Schools are misidentifying a dropout as a transfer, for example, recording a student as a transfer to a private school even though they actually dropped out.
  • Districts are creating multiple pathways to a diploma to make it easier to graduate.

While these are all loopholes that are should be exposed, it is unlikely they had much impact on the overall national on-time graduation rate. It’s not to say that these practices aren’t a problem. In fact, NPR reporters did an exemplary job highlighting examples where these loopholes were taken full advantage of. However, none of the NPR reports provide data on the impact on the national graduation rate.

This is not a criticism of NPR’s reporting as they are journalists not researchers. With that said, here are reasons why the graduation rate is still a number worth celebrating and believing:

  • While credit recovery is a growing trend in education and their benefits are still in question, only a small portion of graduates actually ever enrolled in such programs.
  • The U.S. Dept. of Education has very specific rules on when a student can be counted as a transfer and which school gets credit if they graduate. Yet, no matter which school is responsible for push outs to alternative programs, it would have no impact on the national on-time graduation rates as those students are included in calculating the national rate, too. As such, push outs would only impact individual schools’ rates but not the national.
  • States have little flexibility on whether to identify a student who stops attending a school as a dropout or a transfer. In fact, states are required to verify with “official documentation” that a student enrolled in another school before they can be listed as a transfer. If it cannot be verified, the student must be identified as a dropout. However, as NPR noted different states have different requirements for what documentation is needed to verify transfers to home schooling and those students who may have left the country.
  • While it is true a number of states offer multiple types of diplomas, as NPR noted, for a student to count as a graduate they must have earned a standard high school diploma, or higher. Meaning, they must have earned a diploma whose requirements aligned with the states standards. Students who earned GEDs, Certificates of Attendance, IEP diplomas or otherwise modified diplomas are not counted as on-time graduates. Again, it is important to point out that different states have different requirements for earning a standard high school diploma. Simply offing multiple diploma levels does not necessarily lower the bar to earning a diploma. It just provides an opportunity to recognize those students who completed requirements above those aligned to the state standards.

The U.S. Department of Education has put in place a number of safeguards to close most loopholes. However, as NPR discovered some schools still may be exploiting the few small loopholes that remain. Yet, what their reporting doesn’t state explicitly is that their exploitation is likely the exception with little impact on the overall national graduation rate.

What is also important to point out is that prior to NCLB it was more of the rule that schools and states were taking advantage of similar loopholes when reporting graduation rates. Hence, the strict rules from the Department of Education for calculating a more accurate graduation rate. Furthermore, it should also be noted that the 81 percent rate is simply an on-time graduation rate and does not include those students who took more than four years to complete the standard diploma requirements. According to my report Better Late Than Never including late high school graduates would likely increase the national graduation rate by about 5 percentage point to about 86 percent.

It certainly can be argued that just because our schools are graduating 86 percent of students who enter high schools doesn’t mean that 86 percent of students leave college and career ready. As our report Out of Sync found most states that have adopted the Common Core have not aligned their graduation requirements to the college and career readiness standards of the Common Core. Even so, with only a few exceptions, states are now requiring more from students to obtain a standard high school diploma than when graduation rates were floundering two decades ago. So while there is more work to be done, it is nearly indisputable that more students are completing high school with more skills than any other time in our nation’s history. – Jim Hull

June 4, 2015

Yet Another Report Touts Record High School Graduation Rates

EdWeek’s annual Diplomas Count report shows that the U.S. high school on-time graduation rate has hit another all-time high with 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school.  You may remember last month another report found the same. Both reports were based on similar data so it is not surprising they found similar results.

One difference is that this most recent report sheds a brighter light on disparities between different groups of students. An examination of EdWeek’s data shows that in 2013—the most recent year graduation rate data is available—the poverty gap in on-time graduation rates is as large as 16 percentage points in Minnesota to just one percentage point in Kentucky.  Nationally, the gap between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates continues to narrow. Again, the gaps differ significantly from state to state.

While the overall story is certainly good news, the persistent gaps are still troubling. Gaps are particularly large between special education students and the general student population as well as between English Language Learners (ELL) and native English speakers. So while significant progress has been made, there is a lot more work to be done until all students enter high school with a similar chance to graduate high school four years later.


The Findings

National Graduation Rates

  • The national graduation rate hit another all-time high.
    • Eighty-one percent of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2009 graduated with at least a standard high school diploma by the summer of 2013 — the highest level seen since the late 1960s.
      • Between 2011 and 2013 the graduation rate increased 2 points.
      • Graduation rates had remained relatively stagnant between the late 1960s and early 2000’s.
  • Large attainment gaps also remain between traditionally disadvantaged groups and their more advantaged classmates.
    • 16 point gap between white and black students (71 and 87 percent).
    • 12 point gap between white and Hispanic students (75 and 87 percent).
    • Seventy-three percent of students from economically disadvantaged families graduated on-time.
      • This is 8 points lower than the national average.
    • Just 62 percent of Students with Disabilities graduated on-time.
      • This is 19 points lower than the national average.
    • Only 61 percent of Limited English Proficient students graduated on-time.
      • This is 20 points lower than the national average.

State Graduation Rates

  • Most states have improved their graduation rates since 2011.
    • All but six states (Arizona, Illinois, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming) improved their on-time graduation rates between 2011 and 2013.
    • Nevada made the greatest improvement by increasing their graduation rate from 62 to 71 percent (9 points) during this same time period.
      • New Mexico and Utah both improved their graduation rates by 7 points as well.
  • Large gaps remain between states
    • There is a 28 percentage point gap between Iowa –the state with the highest graduation rate (90 percent)– and the District of Columbia which has the lowest graduation rate (62 percent).
    • Only seven states (Alaska, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon) have graduation rates that fell under 75 percent while 21 states have graduation rates of at least 85 percent.
    • In Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota there is a 15 point gap between the graduation rates of economically disadvantaged students and their state averages.
      • In six states (Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Indiana, and District of Columbia) the gap is 5 points or less.
    • In Mississippi just 23 percent of Students with Disabilities (SWD) graduated on-time which is 53 points lower than the state average (76 percent). Mississippi had both the lowest graduation rates for SWD and the largest gap.
      • On the other end of the spectrum Arkansas had the highest graduation rate for SWK (80 percent) while Alabama had the smallest gap (3 points).
    • Three states (New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Texas) had graduation rates over 80 percent for black students.
      • Three states (Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon) had graduation rates of less than 60 percent for their black students.
    • Eleven states graduated at least 80 percent of their Hispanic students on-time.
      • Minnesota was the only state to graduate less than 60 percent of their Hispanic students.


May 12, 2015

High School Graduation Rates Hit Another All-Time High

With over 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school, the Class of 2013 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history according to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically over the past decade.  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 increased from 71 percent to 75 percent between 2011 and 2013. Black students made significant gains during this period as well, improving their graduation rate from 67 percent to 71 percent. Despite these gains the graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are still significantly lower than those of white students (87 percent).

While this is certainly good news it actually doesn’t provide a complete picture of the success in raising high school graduation 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 86 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 overlooked 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.


The Findings

State Graduation Rates

  • On-time graduation rates vary by state
    • More than half of states (29 or 50) have graduation rates above the national average of 81.4 percent.
      • Six states have graduation rates within two percentage points of 90 percent.
      • Fourteen states have graduation rates between 69 and 78 percent.
    • Iowa achieved the highest on-time graduation at 89.7 percent followed by Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Texas all of which posted 88 percent graduation rates.
    • Oregon had the lowest graduation rate at 69 percent. All other states had at least a 70 percent on-time graduation rate.
    • Ten states increased their graduation rates by four or more percentage points between 2011 and 2013, with Nevada and Alabama leading the way which saw gains of 8.7 and 8.0 percentage points, respectively.
      • Another 22 states made gains between 2 and 3.9 percentage points during the same time period.
      • Six states (Arizona, Illinois, New York, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming) saw a drop in their graduation rates between 2011 and 2013.
  • Family income is not the primary driver for variation across states
    • Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma all have low-income student populations greater than 60 percent, yet each of the states are among the national leaders in graduation rates.
    • On the other hand, Alaska, Minnesota, and Wyoming have low-income student populations below 40 percent but each rank in the bottom 10 in terms of graduating their low-income students.
    • At 85 percent, Kentucky, Indiana and Texas were tied for having the highest on-time graduation rate for low-income students.
      • In Alaska, only 60 percent of their low-income students graduated on-time, the lowest in the nation, even though they had a similar proportion of low-income students in their schools as Iowa who graduated 80 percent of their low-income students.
    • Connecticut made the greatest progress in narrowing the graduation gap between low and non-low income students, narrowing the gap by 6 percentage points between 2011 and 2013.
      • North Dakota saw their gap increase by nearly 8 percentage points during the same time period.


National Graduation Rates

  • The national graduation rate hit another all-time high.
    • 81.4 percent of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2009 graduated with at least a standard high school diploma by the summer of 2013.
      • Between the early 1970s and mid 2000s, the national on-time graduation rate remained in the low 70s. However, between 2003 the 2013 the national graduation rate has improved approximately one percentage point per year.
      • As recently as 2001, the national graduation rate was at 72 percent.
    • At the current pace the national graduation rate will hit 90 percent by 2020—a goal of the report’s authors— and would put the U.S. once again among the world leaders.
  • Black and Hispanic students graduating at a much higher rate
    • While graduation rates for white students have improved, graduation rates for black and Hispanic students have improved at a faster rate.
      • The graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped from 71 percent in 2011 to 75 percent in 2013
      • Black students made headway as well by improving their graduation rate from 67 percent to 71 during the same time period.
      • Yet, large gaps exist as nearly 87 percent of white students graduated on-time in 2013.

Dropout Factories

  • Fewer students are attending so-called ‘Dropout Factories’ defined as schools where less than 60 percent of students graduate on-time.
    • There are nearly 40 percent fewer Dropout Factories in 2013 than in 2002 (1,146 and 2,007 respectively).
    • Furthermore, the number of students attending a Dropout Factory was nearly cut in half with 1.5 million fewer students attending a Dropout Factory in 2013 compared to 2002.
      • The number of black and Hispanic students in these schools dropped below 20 and 15 percent, respectively.
Filed under: Graduation rates,High school — Jim Hull @ 2:26 pm

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