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For too long, the true dimensions of our nation’s graduation rate and dropout crisis have been obscured by unreliable national and state measures of high school completion rates based on differences in calculation methods and poor data quality. While researchers such as Chris Swanson of Editorial Projects in Education and Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research have developed graduation rate calculations that have pulled back the curtains on dropout rates at the national level, the quality of data on graduation and dropouts rates at the state level is such that many states cannot account for the status of their students as they progress through high school and beyond.

Fortunately, stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels have demonstrated leadership by taking important steps to build capacity to meet those goals. For example, the U.S. Department of Education has begun reporting its own graduation rate for each state, and all 50 of the nation’s governors have signed a compact to implement a common, accurate graduation rate and to create better systems and methods of collecting, analyzing, and reporting graduation and dropout data (although a few have stepped back from that commitment in past months).

Earlier this year, the National Governors Association (NGA) issued a progress report on the implementation of the governors’ compact. It said that thirteen states will report their graduation rate according to the compact formula in 2006, a number that will expand to thirty-nine by 2010. Of the remaining states, several are still determining when they will report the compact formula. Only North Dakota and South Dakota do not plan to use the compact rate.

In the meantime, some states and school systems have conducted studies or have reexamined their own dropout data in an effort to get a better handle on exactly how many students are dropping out of their schools.

New York City

A recent New York City Department of Education report finds that nearly 140,000 individuals aged sixteen to twenty-one have either dropped out of high school or are so far behind in their course work that they are unlikely to graduate. The study, which was supported with a $2.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also examines which students are likely to fall behind, at what point they fall behind, and which schools are better able to get students back on track.

The report finds that individuals who fall behind in their credits are considerably more likely to drop out. Of the Class of 2003’s dropouts, 93 percent lagged in their credits at some point, compared to only 19 percent of individuals who graduated in 2003. The report also notes that many students fall behind after coming to high school with insufficient reading and math skills. However, 30 percent of freshmen with proficient or nearly proficient reading skills also fall behind in their work.

According to the study, there are 68,000 New York City students aged sixteen to twenty-one who have already dropped out of school, but there are 70,000 who are still enrolled even though they are behind in their credits. Effectively serving the students still in school, the bulk of whom are 16, 17 and 18, is critical to improving the city’s graduation rate said Michele Cahill, the senior counselor for education policy to Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor.


Kentucky underreported its dropout number for the 2004–05 school year by at least 1,979 students, according to an audit of Kentucky’s dropout rate that was released by Kentucky State Auditor Crit Luallen. She reported that improper coding of students was one reason for the miscalculation. For example, the audit finds that students who leave school at the end of one year, but fail to return at the beginning of the next school year, were not coded as dropouts.

“Kentucky Dropout Rates Underreported Audit Includes Recommendations for Improvement”:


Only about 61 percent of Mississippi’s students graduate from high school on time, according to a new formula that combines federal and NGA guidelines. Previously, the state had reported that 85 percent of its students graduate in four years.

“Grad rate worsens with new estimates” is available at


Army Meets Recruitment Goal


Earlier this month, the U.S. Army announced that it had recruited 80,635 soldiers for fiscal year 2006, exceeding its recruiting goal for that year by 635 soldiers. This was the Army’s first year of recruiting after it had decided to enlist recruits who score near the bottom of military aptitude tests. While approximately 2,600 soldiers were recruited under the new standards, the Army said that all had received high school diplomas.

“Tests don’t tell you the answer to the most critical question for the Army, [which is] how you will do in combat?” said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a private research group. “The absolute key for the Army is a high school diploma.”

According to statistics from the Associated Press, 3.8 percent of first-time recruits scored between the sixteenth and thirtieth percentile on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the aptitude tests that the Defense Department gives to all potential military personnel. In previous years, the Army only permitted 2 percent of its recruits to come from this range. Last year, the ceiling was increased to 4 percent.

Complete recruiting figures are available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.