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IMPLEMENTING GRADUATION COUNTS: Majority of States Are on Track to Report NGA Gradation Rate by 2011

“To develop effective strategies for improving student outcomes, states need an accurate measure of how many students graduate.”

Forty-five states will be ready to publicly report high school graduation rates by 2011 using a common graduation rate formula, according to a recent report from the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices. In 2005, governors of all fifty states signed the NGA Graduation Counts Compact to implement a common graduation rate formula, commit to building state data collections and reporting capacities, develop additional student outcome indicators, and report annual progress about graduation and dropout rates.

Implementing Graduation Counts: State Progress to Date, 2009 outlines state progress toward meeting the NGA Compact goals and the graduation requirements set forth under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A 2008 regulation to NCLB from the U.S. Department of Education mandated that all states implement a four-year adjusted graduation rate that can be disaggregated by grade level and demographic at the state, district, and high school levels by School Year (SY) 2010–2011. NCLB also requires that, following the SY 2011–2012, states use the rate to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Prior to the NGA Compact, states had plenty of leeway in how they tracked students over time and calculated graduation rates. Rather than use a common calculation that would allow for comparisons across state lines, states used a variety of unsophisticated reporting methods that frequently resulted in inconsistent and deceptive high school completion data. (Read more about prior misleading graduation rates in the Alliance’s Every Student Counts policy brief.)

“To develop effective strategies for improving student outcomes, states need an accurate measure of how many students graduate,” saidJohn Thomasian, director of the NGA Center. “Governors recognize that a common, more reliable formula for calculating high school graduation rates is essential to ensuring that all students graduate from high school ready for college and work.”

According to the report, twenty states currently calculate and report a graduation rate consistent with the NGA Compact and another five states plan to do so by the end of the year. By 2010, eight mores states will use the Compact formula and, by the end of 2011, another twelve states are expected to do so. Only three states (Hawaii, Idaho, and Illinois) have not yet indicated a date by which they will meet the NGA commitment, but the report presumes they will meet the federal NCLB deadline by 2011. Kentucky and Wisconsin have requested an extension from the U.S. Department of Education and plan to report sometime after 2011.

The NGA Compact formula calculates the graduation rate by dividing the number of on-time graduates in any given year by the number of first-time entering ninth graders four years earlier. According to the Compact, “graduates” are defined as students receiving a high school diploma; the number of first-time entering ninth graders can be adjusted to account for student transfers, special education students, and recent immigrants with limited English proficiency.

Implementing Graduation Counts also takes a look at which states are reporting “additional student indicators” such as completion rates for students earning alternative degrees, in-grade retention rates, and college-readiness rates. Of the twenty states already reporting graduation rates using the Compact formula, the report finds that eighteen of them are reporting additional factors and the remaining two are in the process of developing systems to report these indicators.

Beyond establishing a consistent formula for determining graduation rates, the report maintains that “it is critical that states provide guidance and training to school and district personnel who collect and enter student information,” adding that state leaders should enact and enforce state polices that promote accurate data collection and analyses. Acknowledging that current fiscal conditions could impose restrictions, the report points out that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains $245 million for the specific purpose of developing state data systems.

Read the complete report at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.