Magazine article Economic Trends

Improvements in High School Graduation Rates

Magazine article Economic Trends

Improvements in High School Graduation Rates

Article excerpt

03.01.13

In January the Department of Education reported more positive news on one of the key indicators of the health of public high schools. During the 2009-2010 academic year (the most recent year for which national figures are computed), the estimated average freshman graduation rate (AFGR) reached a 40-year high of 78.2 percent. This is up 2.7 points from 75.5 percent during 2008-2009. While this is welcome news, the big picture remains that the dropout situation in many public high schools persists at epidemic levels, leaving plenty of room for future progress.

Importantly, the recent progress is part of a decade-long trend in improving graduation rates. The trend is due in part to the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in the early 2000s, which began forcing states to better measure and improve their graduation rates. These efforts, along with others, have resulted in substantial progress, taking the AFGR from nearly all-time lows in the late 1990s to nearly all-time highs in the current release.

Breaking down these trends by race and ethnicity shows that while all groups saw improvements on average, the greatest gains were attributed to groups with historically low on-time graduation rates. The AFGR for Hispanic students was up nearly 8 percentage points from two years earlier, and the estimated graduation rate for black students was up nearly 5 percentage points over the same period. White students experienced the smallest gains, with a 2 percent increase in the last two years.

An important question that remains is whether we can expect these trends in the graduation rate to continue. Part of the answer to this question will depend on the effect of future changes in how the graduation rate is measured. A major challenge in the past has been that each state used a different method to measure high school graduation rates. This made comparing graduation rates across states, as well as constructing a national rate, very difficult.

As states continued to construct their own graduation rates, in 2001 the Department of Education began using the AFGR as a benchmark measure of the high school graduation rate. It was considered the most reliable estimate given the available data reported by each individual state, and it could also be computed all the way back to the late 1960s.

However, beginning in the 2010-2011 academic year, all state education agencies will now be required to report graduation rates based on a more rigorous and uniform standard. The measurement is defined as the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR), and it is designed to be a more accurate estimate of the on-time graduation rate than the AFGR. …

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