Report: Grad Rates Inch Closer to 2020 Goal

Ninety percent by 2020. That's the high school graduation goal that a consortium of education organizations is pursuing. For 2013, the rate hit a high of 81.4 percent, up from 80 percent in 2012, which the organizers of "Grad Nation" consider on-target.

According to "Building a Grad Nation," an annual report that profiles the high school dropout count, the rate of graduation isn't improving because of "broad national economic, demographic and social trends." In fact, some districts are showing big improvements and others are not. What's driving progress is a "constellation of leadership, reforms and multi-sector efforts" occurring at state, district and school levels.

The report noted that the latest state-level data showed that 29 of 50 states equaled or exceeded the national average of 81.4 percent — and six of those states were within two percentage points of reaching the 90 percent goal. Fourteen states have graduation rates between 69 and 78 percent.

The graduation rates for specific groups of students are shifting, making a big impact on the overall rate. The research found that Hispanic/Latino students — the fastest growing population — has made the biggest graduation gains, improving by 4.2 percentage points from 2011 to 2013. Graduation of African American students has risen by 3.7 percentage points, up from 67 percent in 2011 to 70.7 percent in 2013.

A major factor in the growing success of those two demographic student groups is a change in where substantive numbers of them go to school. As the report pointed out, schools with abysmal dropout rates number only 1,200 in the country, and the number of African American and Hispanic/Latino students in those schools has dropped below 20 and 15 percent, respectively.

Overall, the report stated that, all other things being equal, getting to a 90 percent graduation rate across the board calls for an additional 310,000 more graduates in the class of 2020 compared to the class of 2013.

However, the report's authors said, graduation gaps still exist among minority, low-income, English Language Learners, and special education students.

For low-income students, the graduation rate reached 73.3 percent, up 3.3 percentage points from 2010-11 but still eight points behind the national overall rate. That rate varies from state to state; in Kentucky, for instance, the rate is 85.4 percent; in Alaska, it's 59.5 percent.

The graduation rate for Hispanic/Latino and African American students has improved since 2006, yet it's still lower than for white and Asian students. Among the barriers to academic success these groups of students face, the report said, are "discipline disparities that push them off track for graduation, language barriers, and lack of access to rigorous coursework that will enable them to be successful in college and career."

The graduation rate for students with disabilities reached 61.9 percent in the latest tally, but that count is still nearly 20 points behind the national average. Challenges for this group of students include "chronic negative misperceptions and disciplinary disproportionalities," the report noted, both of which deter students from staying in school and on track to graduate.

The report's authors put forth numerous recommendations for both federal and state policymakers, among them:

  • Making sure that the next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) continues requiring states to use the four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate as the primary measure of high school graduation;
  • Pushing the United States Department of Education and state leaders to reach consensus on how to do graduation rate reporting, including developing common definitions for who is a first time ninth-grader, when cohort counts are established, and just when the four years of the four-year graduation are over; and
  • Directing funding to (and requiring accountability of) districts and schools that educate high percentages of low-income students and other sub-populations that the data shows to be at-risk and without supplemental support.

The research and reporting was done by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, America's Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education. The work was sponsored by AT&T and Target.

The report is available online at the Grad Nation Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.