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Accurate Calculation of High School Graduation Rates Urgently Needed

Press Release:

Accurate Calculation of High School Graduation Rates Urgently Needed

Specific Changes to Federal Policy Called for in Alliance’s Policy Brief Measuring Graduation to Measure Success

A new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education urges specific policy changes at the federal level to ensure that states are accurately reporting high school graduation rates. Measuring Graduation to Measure Success is being released today at a symposium in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Alliance, to examine the graduation calculation rates crisis.

Most states calculate graduation rates using the same method as the National Center for Education Statistics, resulting in a national rate of 86%. This contrasts starkly with methods developed by Jay Greene (Manhattan Institute of Policy Research) and Christopher Swanson (Urban Institute), which put the national graduation rate at 68-70%. The discrepancy has far-reaching policy impact.

“The fact that President Bush and the nation’s governors are including high schools in upcoming reform efforts is encouraging, but little can be accomplished if we don’t have accurate and complete data to inform real change,” says Cynthia H. Sadler, Interim President of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

According to the policy brief, No Child Left Behind’s requirements for calculating graduation rates may appear rigorous, but, in fact, the U.S. Department of Education has approved methods that fail to account for large numbers of students who do not actually receive their diplomas. Without accurate data, it is impossible to effectively assess school quality, determine student progress, and guarantee significant reform.

Measuring Graduation to Measure Success outlines three recommendations to the federal government to address the graduation calculation rate crisis:

  1. Enforce current NCLB requirements for calculating graduation rates and set explicit national rules for state formulas. The government must stop allowing states to use alternative calculations that provide less accurate graduation rate information than the NCLB definition mandates.
  2. Modify NCLB so that disaggregated graduation data (by socio-economic background, race, and ethnicity, English proficiency, and disability) carries consequences for Adequate Yearly Progress. It is crucial that states set meaningful goals for improving graduation rates and that all groups of students be counted fully in AYP determinations.
  3. Provide additional funding for data collection and technical assistance to state departments of education and local education agencies. Congress should partner with states to provide the technology, infrastructure, and expertise necessary to appropriately institute the reforms necessitated by NCLB.

At the graduation rates symposium today, leading researchers shared findings and suggested specific policy solutions, to which prominent policymakers responded. Panelists included: Christopher Swanson (Urban Institute), Robert Balfanz (Johns Hopkins University), Greg Forster (Manhattan Institute for Policy Research), Daniel Losen (Harvard Civil Rights Project), Moira Lenehan (Office of U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa), Robert Lerner (National Center for Education Statistics), and Doug Mesecar (U.S. Dept. of Education). The moderator was Scott Palmer (Holland & Knight).

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life. It is funded by the Leeds Family, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Daniels Fund, and the New York Community Trust, as well as by concerned individuals.

For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit:

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