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EVERY STUDENT COUNTS: New Legislation Would Fix Flaws in NCLB Related to Reporting and Calculating High School Graduation Rates

“The current high school accountability system is failing our students and our future as a nation,” Scott said

Although graduation rates are a fundamental indicator of how well the nation’s public school system is performing, inaccurate data, misleading calculations and reporting, and flawed accountability systems have resulted in states reporting graduation rates that often overstate the percentages of students who earn high school diplomas. As a result, unacceptably low graduation rates have been obscured, and the American public has largely been left in the dark about how many students drop out of high school.

Fortunately, stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels have taken important steps to bring credibility back into graduation rate reporting. For example, the U.S. Department of Education has begun reporting its own estimate of the graduation rate of each state, and the nation’s governors have signed a compact to implement a common, accurate graduation rate and to create better systems and methods of collecting, analyzing, and reporting graduation and dropout data.

On July 10, Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) joined this effort when he introduced new legislation that would fix three significant flaws that currently exist in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) related to the way that states report, calculate, and use graduation rates for accountability. Dubbed the Every Student Counts Act, the legislation builds on the governors’ compact and seeks to hold high schools responsible for graduating students by improving the calculation of and accountability for high school graduation rates.

“The current high school accountability system is failing our students and our future as a nation,” Scott said. “Almost one-third of all high school students in the United States fail to graduate with their peers—about 1.2 million every year—and the numbers are worse for minorities as compared to nonminority students. I am introducing the Every Student Counts Act to bring meaningful accountability to high schools and help reduce the high school dropout rate.”

In drafting NCLB, Congress recognized that holding schools accountable for their test scores could create perverse incentives to “push out” low-performing students. For example, schools could encourage or force low-performing students to drop out before they take the test used for federal accountability as a way to increase test scores and meet progress goals. To combat these incentives, NCLB includes a requirement that high schools also meet state-set graduation goals as a part of its accountability system. Unfortunately, when states were developing their accountability systems, many set the bar at very low levels or chose to use misleading graduation rate calculations.

The Every Student Counts Act would require states, schools, and districts to use a common, accurate, graduation rate calculation. It would also require high schools with graduation rates of less than 90 percent to make aggressive but attainable increases in their graduation rates as part of the annual accountability requirements under NCLB. To ensure that schools are held accountable for the graduation of all students, this requirement applies to both the overall graduation rate and to the graduation rate of each subgroup of students.

In addition to a misleading graduation rate calculation, there are two other significant flaws in NCLB that undermine the intention of the law and weaken the role of graduation rates in both accountability for student success and as a tool for identifying low-performing high schools and targeting support and interventions.

While NCLB sets 100 percent proficiency on state tests in reading and math as its ultimate goal, it does not set an ultimate graduation rate goal. Therefore, states are not required to set—and schools are not required to make—meaningful increases in graduation rates over time. Nor does NCLB require the disaggregated graduation rates of student subgroups to increase as part of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations; only aggregate (not student subgroup) graduation rates are used in the determination of AYP. Consequently, the low graduation rates of poor and minority students, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities are not factored into AYP determinations and are often hidden from the public eye.


U.S. Department of Education Announces $62.2 Million in Grants for Longitudinal Data Systems


Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education announced $62.2 million in grants to thirteen states to help them design, develop, and implement longitudinal data systems that can track individual students throughout their school career. The grants range from $3.2 million to $6 million and extend for three years.

In order to provide educators with data necessary to improve student achievement, states need systems that collect high-quality individual student data and that enable the identification of successful schools and practices, calculation of accurate graduation rates, and accountability for the success of every child. Despite significant progress, far too many schools, districts, and states lack this capacity.

States receiving these grants will use funds to develop data systems that help states, districts, schools, and teachers efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, disaggregate, and use individual student data to improve policy and practice. The grants will also increase these states’ capacity for accurately reporting high school graduation rates and dropout data, and increase their capability to efficiently satisfy federal reporting requirements. For example, Kansas is planning to use a portion of its grant to track student transfers and dropouts more accurately. Virginia will use funds to support its P–16 effort by allowing for the electronic exchange of student records between K–12 schools and institutions of higher education.

A complete list of the states selected to receive a grant, as well as the grant amounts and other information, is available at

An abstract of the three-year work each state is planning is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.