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PUBLIC SCHOOL HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES AND DROPOUTS: NCES Report Pegs National Graduation Rate at 75.5 Percent for 2008–09 School Year

The estimated national high school graduation rate for the 2008–09 school year was 75.5 percent, up from 74.7 the year before, according to a new report released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The report, Public School Graduates and Dropouts from the Common Core of Data: School Year 2008–09, finds that high school graduation rates ranged from a high of 90.7 percent in Wisconsin to a low of 56.3 percent in Nevada.

According to the report, graduation rates increased by 1 percentage point or more in twenty-two states and the District of Columbia. Nine states saw their graduation rates decrease by 1 percentage point or more. States with the highest and lowest graduation rates appear in the left and right side of table below, respectively.


Graduation Rate


Graduation Rate











District of Columbia


North Dakota


New Mexico




South Carolina


The report also includes high school graduation rates broken down by race/ethnicity. Graduation rates were highest for Asian/Pacific Islander students (91.8 percent), followed by white students (82.0 percent), Latino students (65.9 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native students (64.8 percent), and African American students (63.5 percent).

Graduation rates are calculated using the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) based on data reported to NCES by state educational agencies. AFGR is calculated by taking an estimate of an incoming freshman class and comparing that to the number of diplomas awarded four years later.  The report lists several reasons why AFGR is not as accurate as an on-time graduation rate computed from a cohort of students, such as the four-year adjusted cohort calculation method that states will be required by the U.S. Department of Education to report by the end of the 2010-11 school year, but notes that AFGR can be calculated using currently available data.

NCES’s AFGR calculation, along with Editorial Projects in Education’s Cumulative Promotion Index, are considered by many to be the best estimates of state and national graduation rates until the four-year adjusted cohort data is available for every state.

Graduates are students reported as diploma recipients. Other high school completers who were awarded alternate credentials, such as a certificate of completion or an equivalency credential, are not included in the AFGR calculations because they are not considered regular graduates.

This report also includes dropout data for grades nine through twelve for public high schools in the 2008–09 school year. A dropout is defined as a student who was enrolled at any time during the previous school year, but who is not enrolled at the beginning of the current school year and has not successfully completed school. Students who transferred to another school, died, moved to another country, or were out of school due to illness are not considered dropouts.

The complete report is available at .

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.