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SOMETHING IN COMMON: Under New Regulations, States Must Adopt Uniform Calculation for High School Graduation Rates by 2010

“If Federal Express can track a package from pick-up to delivery and every point in between, then we should be able to keep track of all of our students from the moment they enter school,” Wise said.

In order to bring more coherence to the way states calculate what percentage of students graduate from high school, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced on October 28 that states must use a uniform calculation for determining every high school’s graduation rate. The rule, which will become effective beginning in the 2010–11 school year, was part of the long-awaited final regulations for Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

“As far back as 2005, governors from all fifty states agreed to adopt a uniform, more accurate graduation rate,” Spellings said. “But so far, only sixteen states have done so. Parents know that a high school diploma is the least their children need to succeed in today’s economy.”

Under NCLB, states were given the discretion to come up with their own graduation rate calculations. As a result, several different calculations emerged throughout the country, making it extremely difficult to compare graduation rates across schools, districts, and states.

In her speech announcing the new regulations, Spellings noted that one state only counts seniors who leave schools as dropouts, ignoring the students who dropped out as freshmen, sophomores, or juniors, and that another state did not keep data on any dropouts until last year.

Under the new regulations, all states will use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time and how many drop out. Called a “four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate,” the formula takes the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma and divides it by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier, adjusted for transfers, students who emigrate, and deceased students. States will have to report graduation rates at the school, district, and state levels and disaggregate the data to show how students of every race, background, and income level are performing. The regulations also require that data be made public for educators and parents to see.

For the purposes of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), states must also set a single graduation rate goal that all high schools in the state must meet. Then, in order for a school or district to make AYP, it must meet or exceed the state’s graduation rate goal or demonstrate continuous and substantial improvement from the prior year toward meeting that goal.

“Nationwide, half of minority students fail to graduate on time,” Spellings said. “Think about that. As one economist said recently, ‘When you look at these results, you ought to tremble.’ For too long, we’ve allowed this crisis to be hidden and obscured.”

In a statement, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, commended Secretary Spellings for “strengthening the law so that it reflects a truer picture of where education stands in this country, where it needs to be, and how we’re going to get there.

“If Federal Express can track a package from pick-up to delivery and every point in between, then we should be able to keep track of all of our students from the moment they enter school,” Wise said. “Secretary Spellings’s announcement today calling for a uniform graduation rate calculation addresses a crucial gap in the No Child Left Behind Act, one that has left us without a clear understanding of how many students actually earn a high school diploma.”

The new regulations also made changes to the public school choice and supplemental education service options that are included in NCLB. They require that parents be notified in a clear manner about a child’s ability to transfer to another public school not identified for improvement no later than fourteen days before the start of the school year. In addition, school districts must post on their websites information about public school options and supplementary education services (SES), including a list of available schools to which students may transfer and a list of SES providers and locations.

The regulations also include changes to improve accountability and transparency. For example, states and districts will have to include on their report cards the most recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading and math and disaggregate the data by student subgroup. The regulations build on the department’s growth model pilot program by outlining the criteria that states must meet in order to incorporate individual students’ progress into the state’s definition of AYP. For schools under restructuring, the regulations ensure that the interventions are more rigorous and specifically address the reasons why the school is in restructuring.

The U.S. Department of Education received more than four hundred comments on the preliminary regulations that it issued in April 2008 and made several substantive changes based on those comments before issuing the final regulations last week.

More information on the final regulations, including Secretary Spellings’s complete speech, is available at

Governor Wise’s complete statement is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.