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"There is no question that we must focus our efforts on helping students graduate from high school,"

Late last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced the creation of a special task force on high school dropout and graduation rates. He charged it with reviewing the methods for reporting high school dropouts and on-time graduates and making recommendations on ways to improve both indicators.

“There is no question that we must focus our efforts on helping students graduate from high school,” Paige said in December 2003. “One of the first things we need to do is look at the varying definitions, standards, and tracking systems throughout the country to gain a better understanding of the problem so that we can tackle it head-on.”

On November 30, 2004, the task force issued its final report. Included in it are mathematical equations the task force recommends for calculating on-time graduation rates, completion rates, transfer rates, and dropout rates. According to the report, these rates require data that follow individual students throughout their high school careers (so-called cohort data), but it also offers alternatives for states that currently do not have that capacity.

The report described a number of recent developments that have “raised the scientific urgency of having sound, defensible, well-understood indicators” for measuring high school graduation, including:

  • the No Child Left Behind Act and the use of graduation, completion, and dropout indicators for public school accountability purposes;
  • increased diversity in student bodies and the need to measure the progress of student subgroups; and
  • growing multiplicity of means for completion of high school (GEDs, home schooling, etc.).

The Exclusion-Adjusted Cohort Graduation Indicator (EACGI)

The task force’s preferred graduation indicator is called the “exclusion-adjusted cohort graduation indicator” (EACGI). The EACGI (see formula in box below) can be calculated in the same manner at all levels, from the school to the nation. It provides for the inclusion of in-transfers and is based on data anticipated to be available in all states within three to five years.

The task force urged the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to move toward using the EACGI in its own reports and studies and encouraged states to do the same, especially when reporting high school graduation information for the No Child Left Behind Act. It also recommended that, while NCLB does not mandate uniform reporting of graduation data, the U.S. Department of Education should begin to do so and that it should work with states to ensure that the required data are available and of high quality.

The report noted that some states have the capacity to employ the preferred graduation indicator now, but others do not. For the states that lack the necessary data, the task force recommended several alternative indicators that require less data and could be used as a substitute for the time being. But these options have what the task force called “manifest shortcomings,” such as no capability to document exclusions like transfers or imprisonment.

Acknowledging that no single indicator of graduation, completion, or dropouts can serve all purposes, the report urges states to examine patterns between indicators that could illuminate problems in ways that a single indicator could not. For example, a school with a high graduation indicator and a high transfer rate could help identify a school that is “dumping” students who are perceived as unlikely to graduate.

The complete NCES report, National Institute of Statistical Science/Education Statistics Services Institute Task Force on Graduation, Completion, and Dropout Indicators, is available at

The Exclusion-Adjusted Cohort Graduation Indicator: A Mathematical RepresentationThe exclusion-adjusted cohort graduation indicator (EACGI) is a function of school S, cohort year Y, and graduation year Yg. It accounts for in-transfers, out-transfers, retentions, and other exclusions. The mathematical representation is in the linked file

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.