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UNDERSTANDING HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES: Alliance Analysis Highlights Discrepancies Between State-Reported Rates and Independent Estimates

“The nation will not have met the goal of leaving no child behind until every student graduates from high school prepared for success in college, work, and life,” said Bob Wise

A new analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education finds that discrepancies continue to exist between the graduation rates reported by the states and the U.S. Department of Education and those estimated by independent researchers. According to Understanding High School Graduation Rates, the average difference between state and independent sources is about 13 percent, but the gap ranges from 4 percent (New Jersey) to 32 percent (New Mexico).

“The nation will not have met the goal of leaving no child behind until every student graduates from high school prepared for success in college, work, and life,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Providing an excellent education starts with understanding whether the student who starts high school is the one who stays and earns a diploma. Misleading graduation rate calculations, inadequate systems to track students throughout their education, and lack of accountability by the school are undermining efforts to understand and increase the nation’s graduation rate.”

According to the brief, twenty-two states report graduation rates that are 4 to 9 percent higher than those reported by independent researchers Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute and Christopher Swanson of Editorial Projects in Education. Another nineteen states have gaps of between 10 and 20 percent, and nine states have a discrepancy of more than 20 percent between their state-reported rates and independent estimates. The following table includes some of the states with the biggest discrepancies.


State-Reported Graduation Rate

Independent Analysis (Source)


New Mexico


57% (Education Week)


North Carolina


66% (Education Week)




61% (Education Week)


South Carolina


53% (Education Week)




72% (Education Week)




61% (Education Week)


South Dakota


75% (Education Week)



Cost of High School DropoutsEach year nearly 1.2 million students in the United States do not graduate with their peers.• Dropouts from the Class of 2006 cost the nation more than $309 billion in lost wages, taxes, and productivity over their lifetimes.• If the United States’ likely dropouts from the Class of 2006 had graduated, the nation could have saved more than $17 billion in Medicaid and expenditures for uninsured care over the course of those young people’s lifetimes.• If U.S. high schools and colleges raise the graduation rates of Hispanic, African American, and Native American students to the levels of white students by 2020, the potential increase in personal income would add more than $310 billion to the U.S. economy.• Increasing the graduation rate and college matriculation of male students in the United States by just 5 percent could lead to combined savings and revenue of almost $8 billion each year by reducing crime-related costs.













In addition to comparing graduation-rate reporting, Understanding High School Graduation Rates reports the cost of the dropout crisis in terms of lost earnings, reduced tax revenue, and increased spending on Medicaid and reducing crime. The costs to the nation as a whole appear in the box to the right. Each state report breaks these numbers down further to reveal the cost of the dropout crisis in each of the fifty states.

The brief also identifies three core areas that are fundamental to calculating, reporting, and improving accurate graduation rates. First, all states should use the same accurate graduation rate calculations. Second, states need data systems that track individual student data from the time students enter the educational system until the day they leave it. Finally, the brief notes the need for federal policy that meaningfully holds high schools accountable for improving student achievement on test scores and for increasing graduation rates so that low-performing students are not unnecessarily held back or encouraged to leave school without a diploma.


The complete report, including a state-by-state analysis, can be found here.

New Online Mapping Tool Provides High School Graduation Rates for Every School District in the Nation 

On May 9, Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) launched EdWeek Maps, an online mapping tool that allows users to compare high school graduation rates for every school district in the nation. Produced in collaboration with ESRI, a California-based firm responsible for leading geographic information system (GIS) technology, EdWeek Maps uses graduation rates that are based on the percentage of students in the ninth grade who complete high school in four years with a regular diploma. These rates were calculated using the EPE Research Center’s Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI), and were released in the 2006 EPE report Diplomas Count.

EdWeek Maps also allows users to download special reports containing additional information and analysis regarding a district’s graduation rate and to compare local statistics with those at the state and national level. Features, where available, include the percentage of students who drop out in each grade, trends in graduation rates over the last decade, student enrollment levels, teacher-student ratios, student demographics, and comparative segregation levels.

“This tool provides the public—from parents to policymakers—with access to a powerful source of data on graduation rates at the national, state, and local levels,” said Christopher Swanson, director of the EPE Research Center and creator of the CPI. “Because this information has often been unavailable or unreliable in the past, this is the first time that users nationwide can compare their local schools’ success with [that of] neighboring communities and districts around the country.”

EPE formally unveiled EdWeek Maps at the National Summit on America’s Silent Epidemic in Washington, DC. EPE also announced that it will release more extensive data and more sophisticated mapping technology in June to coincide with the publication of its Diplomas Count 2007 report, which will contain an updated analysis of graduation rates.

Additional information on this resource can be found at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.