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EVERY STUDENT COUNTS: Senator Harkin and Representative Scott Introduce Legislation to Establish Common Formula for High School Graduation Rates and Set 90 Percent Graduation Rate Goal

"The current high school accountability system is failing our students and undermining our future as a globally competitive nation."

On April 7, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Every Student Counts Act (ESCA), which would require all states to calculate their graduation rates using the same formula and to set a graduation rate goal of 90 percent for all students and disadvantaged populations. This legislation would codify and strengthen regulations developed in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) that requires states to use a single, accurate graduation rate calculation; establish graduation rate goals; and set annual growth targets.

“The current high school accountability system is failing our students and undermining our future as a globally competitive nation,” Scott said. “The major advantage America has in the global economy is an educated workforce. We can’t allow-or afford-any of our nation’s high students to dropout and not reach their full potential.”

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), graduation rates must be included in adequate yearly progress (AYP) determinations for high schools. However, NCLB does not provide a standardized formula for calculating graduation rates, nor does it require states to set meaningful graduation rate goals. The result is a patchwork of inconsistent graduation rate goals and calculations across the nation, leading to inaccurate reporting of graduation rates.

In October 2008, ED issued regulations requiring states and schools to use a single, accurate calculation of the graduation rate beginning at the end of the 2010-11 school year. ESCA would codify these regulations while setting meaningful graduation rate goals and growth targets. It would set a graduation rate goal of 90 percent for all students and require schools, districts, and states with graduation rates below 90 percent-in the aggregate or for any subgroup-to increase their graduation rates by 3 percentage points per year to make AYP.

ESCA would ensure that test scores and graduation rates are weighted equally when determining AYP by holding schools accountable for ensuring that students graduate from high school, while making sure that schools do not have an incentive to push out low-performing students in order to increase the schools’ test scores. It would also include a cumulative graduation rate provision that would give schools, districts, and states credit for graduating students who may take longer than the typical four years to graduate with a regular diploma. Such a provision would also provide incentives for schools, districts, and states to create programs to serve students who have already dropped out and are over-age or undercredited.

“Along with the 2008 ED regulations, the Every Student Counts Act would help bring method to the madness of high school graduation rate calculations,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Graduation rates are not only an indicator of a school’s success, they are also a critical predicator of a community’s economic health. Nearly 1.3 million students did not graduate from high school in 2010, costing the nation over $337 billion in lost lifetime earnings.”

Representatives Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Danny Davis (D-IL), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Gwen Moore (D-WI), and Donald Payne (D-NJ) are original cosponsors of the Every Student Counts Act.

For more information about ESCA, visit

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.