High school graduation rates rise but U.S. still lags other developed countries

More American high schoolers are graduating on time than ever before, according to federal data released today.

During the 2012-13 school year, 81 percent of students who started as freshmen four years earlier received a high school diploma.

States started uniformly reporting graduation rates by tracking each cohort of freshmen in this way in 2010 and the national graduation rate has increased each year since. In 2011, 79 percent of high school students received a diploma within four years.

The federal data show graduation rates ticked up or were unchanged in all but five states. Arizona saw its graduation rates decline to 75 percent from 76 percent in 2011-12 and 78 percent in 2010-11. Tennessee’s graduation rate slipped from 87 to 86 percent, Vermont’s from 88 to 87 percent, Washington’s from 77 to 76 percent and Wyoming’s from 79 to 77 percent.

The Department of Education plans to release graduation rates broken down by gender, race and socioeconomic status later this year.

While the increase is a step toward a White House-backed goal of having a 90 percent national on-time graduation rate by 2020, the U.S. ranked at the bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s countries for graduation rates last year. Only Austria, Greece, Luxemburg, Mexico and Sweden had lower high school completion rates.

The District of Columbia had the lowest graduation rate in the country at 62 percent, though that was up from 59 percent in the 2011-12 school year. The highest gradation rate in the country is in Iowa, where 90 percent of students finished high school on time.

The graduation rates come out as both houses of Congress take up the work of rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the most recent version of which is known as No Child Left Behind and which was due for reauthorization in 2007.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.