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State Waiver Proposals Threaten to Weaken Accountability for High School Graduation Rates

Press Release:

State Waiver Proposals Threaten to Weaken Accountability for High School Graduation Rates

January 10, 2012
Media Contact
Jason Amos
Phone: (202) 828-0828

New Publication Includes Analysis of Applications Submitted by Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee

Washington, DC -Several states’ applications for waivers from requirements of the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act could weaken accountability for high school graduation rates if approved by the U.S. Department of Education, according to a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The brief, “Waiving Away High School Graduation Rate Accountability?,” includes an analysis of eleven state applications submitted by Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

“In today’s information-age economy, high school graduation must be the starting point, not the finish line for a student to be economically successful throughout life,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “It is vital that graduation rates be included as a core component of state accountability systems. States that are now revising their waiver applications to more appropriately incorporate graduation rates should be applauded for doing so.”

Under NCLB, states used inconsistent and inaccurate graduation rate calculations, and high schools in some states could improve their graduation rates by less than 1 percentage point and still avoid consequences under the law, the analysis finds. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations requiring common, accurate graduation rate calculations for all high schools.

Under the 2008 regulations that took effect in the 2010-11 school year, schools reporting consistently low graduation rates automatically trigger improvement actions. Additionally, high schools that do not meet rigorous but achievable targets are required to undergo improvement. This could change under state waiver proposals, according to the Alliance analysis.

Under some state waiver proposals, high school graduation rates would only count for a modest portion-14 percent to 30 percent, depending on the state-of complex accountability indexes that include tests, graduation rates, and other measures of college and career readiness. These indexes intend to provide a more accurate view of student achievement and drive students toward the goal of being ready for college and a career.

“If test scores in earlier grades or other indicators count far more for measuring a school’s progress than whether a student actually graduates, the fact that high school graduation rates count for so little in the proposed indexes could create an incentive for schools to ‘push out’ low-performing students in order to increase scores on standardized tests,” said Wise. “States are moving in the right direction by creating accountability systems that provide a more complete view of whether students are ready for college and a career, but this cannot come at the expense of holding states accountable for graduation rates.”

In its analysis, the Alliance calls on the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that proposals approved through the waiver process do not supersede the department’s more rigorous 2008 high school graduation rate regulations. In addition, the Alliance recommends that the department only approve waiver applications that give equal weight to high school graduation rates and measures of student achievement, while also allowing states to use additional measures of college and career readiness in their accountability systems.

The complete policy brief, which includes an analysis of each of the eleven state applications, is available here


The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC-based national policy and advocacy organization that works to improve national and federal policy so that all students can achieve at high academic levels and graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship in the twenty-first century. For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit

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