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Crunching the Numbers on College and Career Readiness

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October 06, 2016 10:06 am

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Since School Year 2010–11, all states have calculated their high school graduation rate based on an adjusted cohort of ninth-grade students, as required by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). This rate, known as the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR), calculates the percentage of students who graduate from high school within four years by dividing the number of students in a class that earn a regular high school diploma by the number of first-time ninth graders that made up that class of students three years earlier, adjusting for students who transferred or died. This uniform calculation provides greater transparency about how states determine their high school graduation rate and facilitates cross-state comparisons.

But, ED does not require states to use a similar calculation when determining the percentage of students deemed college and career ready. In fact, most states do not calculate college and career readiness (CCR) based on the adjusted ninth-grade cohort and instead use a variety of other methods that can inflate the percentage of students meeting a given CCR indicator, according to a new report from Achieve.

“Every state has made the college and career readiness of its high school graduates a major priority, but few are doing a good job monitoring how well the education system is delivering on that goal,” according to Count All Kids: Using the 9th Grade Cohort to Improve Transparency and Accountability. “What states report and whom they include in their college and career readiness measures contributes to this problem.”

Essentially, states calculate the percentage of students who achieve certain CCR benchmarks by dividing the total number of students who achieve a given benchmark by different select groups of students. For example, when calculating the percentage of students who pass an Advanced Placement (AP) exam, a state may calculate that percentage based on the number of students who actually took the exam or based on the total number of students who enrolled in an AP course. Meanwhile, another state may calculate the AP exam passing rate as a percentage of all high school graduates or all twelfth graders in a given year. Using a smaller pool of students as the denominator (i.e., calculating the AP exam passing rate as a percentage of only those students who took an AP exam) inflates the overall passing rate and implies that a higher percentage of students overall met that benchmark, as the figure from the report shows below. By contrast, using the adjusted ninth-grade cohort as the denominator bases the passing rate on the entire group of students who started high school together and provides a more comprehensive picture of the performance of all students, the Achieve report notes.

COUNT ALL KIDS graphic

States should use the adjusted ninth-grade cohort to calculate the percentage of students who pass the state’s CCR assessment, complete a CCR course of study, are on track to graduate, and earn college credit during high school, the report says. Currently, no state publicly reports the percentage of its adjusted ninth-grade cohort that passes the state’s CCR assessment, according to Achieve. Meanwhile, only two states—New York and Virginia—publicly report the percentage of the adjusted ninth-grade cohort that completes the state’s CCR-level diploma and disaggregate this data by subgroup.

Kristen Loschert is editorial director at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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