Nation’s Graduation Rate Dramatically Improves

The national high school graduation rate has risen to a new all-time high: 84 percent, the fifth straight year of increases, according to data published by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES)

The graduation rate for the high school class of 2015-16 is nearly a whole point higher than the one for the previous year’s class which was 83.2 percent. The rate measures the proportion of each freshman class (cohort group) that earns a diploma four years later.

All groups of students showed improvements. The graduation rates for black students and for students who are learning English each rose 1.8 percentage points in one year. The rates for low-income students and Hispanic students each rose 1.5 points since the previous year. Students with disabilities saw a gain of nearly a full percentage point.

” There are more graduates this year than last. That’s a good thing.” said Phillip Lovell, the vice president for policy and advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, which works on high school policy issues.

The fact that all subgroups of students showed gains is “super important,” Lovell said. “We don’t want to increase the national grad rate and leave behind kids.”

Despite the gains, however, there is still cause for concern. Some groups of students are still graduating at far better rates than their peers; there is a gap of more than 14 percentage points between Asian and African-American students, for instance. Low-income students lag behind their overall class by more than six points. 

High school students show that they have a long way to go to be ready to succeed in college, too. Every year, large proportions of students fall below the college-readiness benchmark scores on the SAT and ACT.

What Does a Diploma Mean?

Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher, said that the new rates show real progress for “the groups that need progress the most”—low-income and minority students, students with disabilities and those learning English. But he said it’s important that educators and policymakers keep their eye on a key issue: the rigor of the work students are asked to do for their diplomas.

“We can devalue anything if we give it away,” Balfanz said. “We need to be sure these kids are earning honest diplomas.”

Federal requirements that schools report graduation rates by student subgroup helped “shine a spotlight” on work that needed to be done, and lead schools to set goals for improvement. But good national or state graduation rates can also camouflage wide variations among schools. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a school is considered a “low graduation rate” school if it fails to graduate two-thirds of its students within four years. The distribution of those schools varies widely from state to state. In 2015, 12 percent of all U.S. high schools were low-graduation rate schools, according to GradNation.

How Real Are the Gains?

Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which studies academic standards and accountability, said “There is a plausible case to be made that the education system is doing a better job for more of these kids, especially for disadvantaged subgroups,”.

Thirty-four states had a graduation rate between 80 and 89 percent. Washington DC and New Mexico had the lowest graduation rate at 69 percent.  Iowa and New Jersey had the highest graduation rate at 90 percent. The state of Alabama was not counted because its “reporting standard were not met.”

Thanks to all educators who made this possible.

Extracted from Education Week, December 4, 2017, by Catherine Gewertz