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Progress of High School Reform Impeded By Discrepancies in Calculating and Reporting Graduation Rates

Press Release:

Progress of High School Reform Impeded By Discrepancies in Calculating and Reporting Graduation Rates

New Report Examines Various Methodologies, Recommends Policy Solutions

As educators, researchers, and policymakers increasingly speak of the need to more accurately and consistently measure and report high school graduation rates, the public remains confused about why these rates are so important. Today, the Alliance for Excellent Education is releasing an important new report that explains the relationship between realistic graduation rate reporting and effective high school reform efforts.

Who’s Counted? Who’s Counting? Understanding High School Graduation Rates explains the reasons why so many different graduation rate formulas and statistics exist, addresses why states report them differently, discusses the limitations and benefits of each method, and – most importantly – defines the policy changes needed to assure that educators, school officials, parents, and the public receive timely and accurate information about how many students are actually graduating so that they can assess their schools’ current effectiveness and make improvements.

“The country can’t hope to make significant progress on education reform if it doesn’t know the real story of how students are doing,” notes Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Conflicting graduation rates make it impossible to determine if student academic achievement and attainment goals are being met. There’s increasing consensus on what we need to do to solve this problem; now more policymakers need to actively support changes that will result in getting the nation the reliable data it needs.”

The report is designed to serve as a “users’ guide” to graduation rates. In addition to detailing the complexity of the issue, it explains the role that graduation rates play in holding schools, districts, and states accountable (including their role in meeting No Child Left Behind Act requirements) and gives a detailed chronology of reform initiatives. In addition, the various calculation methods are described and a state-by-state comparison of the most commonly reported graduation rates is included. Finally, the report provides policy recommendations that, if implemented, will accelerate much-needed change:

  • States should calculate comparable, accurate, disaggregated graduation rates and use those rates for NCLB reporting and accountability.
  • States and the federal government should invest in well-designed statewide longitudinal data systems to track individual students over time.
  • States should implement the National Governors Association’s Graduation Rate Compact, signed by all 50 governors in 2005.
  • The U.S. Department of Education should require schools to report the number of diploma recipients; the number of 9th-grade repeaters; and the number of 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders who have been verified as transferring in and out. These simple steps would allow anyone to estimate graduation rates for any high school in the nation.
  • NCLB reauthorization should ensure the reporting and use of accurate, disaggregated graduation rate data as a key component of high school accountability, including meaningful annual and ultimate goals for improving graduation rates and appropriate and funded improvement actions for schools in need of improvement.
  • Education policymakers at every level should act to improve graduation rates through comprehensive high school reform.

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, D.C.-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life. For more information about the Alliance, please visit:

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.