Christopher B. Swanson and Sterling C. Lloyd, Education Week, May 31, 2013 – At the beginning of the last decade, before concerns about the nation’s graduation rate ascended to prominence on the policy agenda, only about two-thirds of U.S. public school students were finishing high school with a regular diploma. A new analysis from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center finds that the graduation rate for America’s public schools stands just shy of 75 percent for the class of 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.
The graduation rate, which has risen nearly 2 full percentage points from the previous year and 8 points in the past decade, has reached its highest point since 1973. At the current pace of improvement, the portion of students earning a diploma could surpass the historical high of 77.1 percent within the next few years.
The research center calculates graduation rates for the nation, states, and every public school district in the country using the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) method and data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data.
With graduation rates approaching all-time-high territory, there is reason both to be encouraged and to keep a focus on the efforts that have driven progress.
But there is a flip side to these gains: Far too many young people are still failing to complete a meaningful high school education. The EPE Research Center projects that 1 million students from this year’s high school class will not graduate with a diploma. That amounts to more than 5,500 students lost each school day, or one student every 31 seconds.
A Class Portrait
Beneath an overall graduation rate nearing the 75 percent mark, the research center finds several noteworthy patterns that reflect public education’s past and offer a glimpse into its future. In particular, the analysis shows that the accelerating graduation-rate recovery spans demographic groups.
In a partial exception to the trend, Native American students have experienced relatively modest improvements since 2000—an increase of only 3 percentage points, and have been on a downward trend since 2008.
Rates for whites and Asian-Americans have increased by 6 and 5 points, respectively.
While students from historically disadvantaged groups are earning diplomas at higher rates than a decade ago, large racial and ethnic disparities persist. Asian-Americans and whites remain the top performers, with graduation rates of 81 percent and 80 percent, respectively, for the class of 2010. A 30-point gap separates Asians and Native Americans.
State and Local Perspectives
Graduation rates have also risen in a majority of states during the past decade. Forty-six states have posted gains ranging from a fraction of a percentage point to nearly 32 points. Among the states that have lost ground, all but one saw declines of 2 points or less.
In an original analysis, the EPE Research Center compared actual district graduation rates with the results that would be expected, based on a detailed statistical profile that takes into account 10 characteristics, including size, location, segregation levels, and per-pupil spending. Three-quarters of these 50 largest systems are exceeding graduation expectations.
To add context for high school graduation rates, the EPE Research Center conducts an original survey tracking 18 state policy indicators in three areas: college- and work-readiness definitions, high school-completion credentials, and exit exams. This year’s results indicate that states are holding steady on those measures, with few large shifts related to graduation requirements since 2012.
Thirty-eight states have now defined college readiness, one more than last year. A longer view, however, reveals more dramatic changes. Only 11 states had college-readiness definitions in place in 2007, when the center began monitoring this area. The number of states defining the skills and knowledge needed for work readiness jumped from 21 in 2007 to 38 this year.
The focus on college and work preparation has also prompted states to re-evaluate the rigor of graduation requirements. According to data from the Education Commission of the States, the total number of required credits grew from an average of 20.9 for the class of 2012 to 21.1 for 2013 graduates.
The original research that appears in Diplomas Count 2013 was produced with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, at www.mott.org.