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MORE GRAD RATE CALCULATIONS: NCES Finds Slight Improvement in National Graduation Rate, Continued Discrepancies in State-Reported Rates

On June 20, the same day as the Education Week release, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced new figures that show a 0.4% improvement in the national high school graduation rate based on its Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR). The release shows increases from 2003–2004 in 32 states and in the District of Columbia, no change in 1 state, and declines in 15 states. Two states had missing data. However, the report also identifies 28 states that overestimated their graduation rates by more than 5%.

Even though the new numbers show progress at the national level and at the state level, the progress is very small. Among the 32 states that showed improvement, the average increase was only 1.7% and only 5 states saw increases of more than 3%. The District of Columbia, with an 8.6% increase, and Louisiana, with a 5.3% increase, showed the greatest progress. On the other hand, Nevada, with a 14.9% decrease, and Arizona, with a 9.1% decrease, saw the largest drops in graduation rates as calculated using AFGR. Overall, 14 states had rates of 80.0% or higher.

Like Dr. Christopher Swanson’s Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) method, AFGR is an attempt to better understand national and state graduation rates that have been obscured for far too long by inaccurate data and flawed accountability systems at the state and federal levels. While the calculations are slightly different (and too technical to explain here), both methods produce similar estimates that are seen as more reliable than those that states report. At the national level, the NCES report pegged the national high school graduation rate at 74.3% in 2003–04, up 0.4% from from 2002–03, which is a few percentage points from the rate calculated by Swanson.

The AFGR, based on data reported by state education agencies to the NCES, was meant to represent the first step toward gathering and providing better graduation rate data and making high schools more accountable for dropouts. As such, it is only a stopgap tool to present a more accurate picture of the national trend around high school graduation rates while states work toward developing and using more comprehensive data collection systems.

By publishing states’ AFGRs alongside the graduation rates that states report under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the U.S. Department of Education hopes to use the AFGR to draw attention to which states need to improve the reporting of their graduation rates. Based on the most recent rates, the following states have the largest differences between their reported graduation rate and the rate calculated by NCES:

State Reported Rate AFGR Difference
North Carolina 95.7% 71.4% 24.3%
Mississippi 84.0% 62.7% 21.3%
South Carolina 78.0% 60.6% 17.4%
Indiana 90.0% 73.5% 16.5%
Massachusetts 96.2% 79.3% 12.9%


The complete report is available at


Operation Kama’aina Come Home: Hawaii to Track High School Graduates


A new project in Hawaii will track the state’s high school students in an endeavor to lure them back to the island to fill jobs after they graduate from college. Operation Kama’aina Come Home will provide valuable feedback that could be used to change the state’s public education system. Hawaii’s Department of Education and Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) will lead the effort.

“Every year, thousands of graduates leave the state to attend college on the Mainland,” said Rick Manayan, DBEDT information director and special assistant to the director. “Some will return. Some won’t. During the 1990s, we lost a lot of very talented graduates to the Mainland job market because of a lack of opportunities here, so we specifically wanted to target our people with Hawaii roots and attract them back with jobs that pay a higher median salary.”

The project will encourage graduating high school seniors to register online with their respective high school’s alumni association. That information will be kept on a website that will grant free access to Hawaii employers and allow them to post job openings targeted to native-born students. Although only a handful of high schools are currently onboard, Hawaii State Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto hopes that next year’s entire graduating class will be able to participate.

“DBEDT wants to know where our graduates go and what they do and we’re committed to work with them,” Hamamoto said. “It’s about bringing them back — for jobs, for the future. And I need feedback so we can improve what we do. I need to know where they are, what they’re doing, what kinds of jobs they’ve taken, [and] if they finish school.”

State determined to lure back grads” is available at


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