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GRAD RATES ON THE RISE: New Data Shows Increases in High School Graduation Rates in Majority of States

Preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Education on October 19 shows that states are continuing to improve high school graduation rates and also narrow the gap for underserved students. The release is a first look at the preliminary graduation rates and will be followed by final data, including the national high school graduation rate in the next few months.

“The hard work of America’s educators, families, communities, and students is paying off, particularly after several years of intense work by educators transitioning to new, higher standards,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. “This is a vital step toward readiness for success in college and careers for every student in this country.”

The below chart shows the states with the highest and lowest high school graduation rates for School Year (SY) 2013–14, using the adjusted cohort graduation rate, which is a newer, common metric that all fifty states were required to use beginning in SY 2010–11.

Highest And Lowest High School Graduation Rates By State SY 2013-14“When it comes to high school graduation rate policy, federal and state efforts are working; data and dedication are making diplomas,” said Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise in a statement. “After years of many different calculations, states have begun using a common, reliable method to determine high school graduation rates. More important, states, districts, and schools are acting in response to this information.”

Thirty-six states saw an increase in overall graduation rates. As shown the table below, states with the biggest gains were Delaware, Alabama, Oregon, West Virginia, and Illinois.

Largest Gains In High School Graduation RatesThe District of Columbia and eight states saw year-over-year declines in their graduation rates, with the biggest drops in Oklahoma (-2.1 percentage points), New Mexico (-1.8 percentage points), and Nevada (-1.0 percentage points).

The new rates show that the achievement gap shrank in the majority of states for African American and Latino students, low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. The gap between African American and white students decreased in twenty-eight states; the Latino-white gap decreased in thirty-two states; and the gap between low-income students and their peers decreased in twenty-three states. However, some states saw increases in these gaps or no change, showing that there is still a need to focus on these key student groups in need.

Even with the gains, white students posted a high school graduation rate that was, on average, 13.1 percentage points higher than African American students. In the District of Columbia and six states (California, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin), the graduation rate gap between white students and African American students was greater than 20 percentage points. The graduation rate for white students compared to Latino students, was, on average, 11.3 percentage points higher while the District of Columbia and three states (Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York) have white-Latino graduation gaps larger than 20 percentage points.

Wise cautioned that “Today is a day to celebrate, but it is also a day to recognize additional challenges. Students of color and students from low-income families continue to graduate from high school at much lower rates than white students. Nationwide, there are 1,235 high schools where at least one-third of students do not make it to graduation day.”

Secretary Duncan echoed these sentiments, saying, “While these gains are promising, we know that we have a long way to go in improving educational opportunities for every student—no matter their zip code—for the sake of our young people and our nation’s economic strength.”

Wise urged Congress to keep these disparities in mind as it works to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind. “The U.S. Congress must require states to target resources and focus reform on the lowest-performing high schools,” Wise said. “Great discretion should be left to states, districts, and schools about how they respond; however, no discretion should exist about whether to respond. Additionally, federal policy should ensure that states intervene in high schools where students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and other groups of students fail to meet the state’s graduation rate goal for two years in a row.”

State-by-state high school graduation rates, including graduation rates for various subgroups of students, are available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.