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Latest Release of U.S. High School Graduation Rates Still Preliminary

Photo by PBS NewsHour

After decades of using different metrics to calculate high school graduation rates, the Department of Education has for the first time released data for most states’ graduation rates under one standardized measurement.

The new data highlights an effort to provide a uniform baseline for analysis, beginning with the 2010-2011 academic year.

Twenty-six states reported lower graduation rates, with at least seven states such as Oregon and Minnesota with double digit declines. Fifteen states reported slightly improved rates and five states reported no change in numbers. Oklahoma, Idaho, Kentucky and Puerto Rico have not yet submitted their data.

Under the new methodology, high school ninth-graders are tracked over the four-years it takes to earn a diploma. This means several key demographics are not accounted for, including students who take more than four years to graduate and those who transfer or earn a GED.

Although the new metric is intended to be used as a tool for greater accountability, the Department of Education acknowledges this provisional data should not be held against previous, differently calculated graduation rates to draw conclusions about a state’s progress toward improvement.

The data also highlights dramatic gaps in achievement by race and ethnicity, income, language proficiency and learning disability.

Across all states, Asian students are graduating in relatively high numbers at 79 percent. Black and Latino students continue to fall behind with 60 and 58 percent graduation rates, respectively.

“By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. “Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.”

Graphic by the Department of Education. View complete data here.

While experts warn that it is still too early for state-by-state comparisons, the data can suggest how each state is performing individually. Here is a snapshot:

  • Iowa topped the list with an 88 percent graduation rate, followed closely by Wisconsin and Vermont tied at 87 percent.

  • Washington D.C. rounded the list last with a 59 percent graduation rate. Nevada followed closely behind at 62 percent.

  • At 68 percent, Oregon not only has the fourth-worst graduation rate in the nation, it also has the worst graduation rates for all ethnic and race groups, including whites.

    “No state did as poorly as Oregon when it came to getting white students to earn high school diplomas: Just 70 percent in Oregon’s class of 2011 earned a diploma in four years. That compared with far better rates in states such as Wisconsin (91 percent), New Jersey (90 percent) and Tennessee (89 percent),” reports The Oregonian.

  • Texas, which has had its own battle over graduation rates, ranks fourth in the nation, tied with five other states at 86 percent. The Texas Tribune has that story.

  • According to the National Indian Education Association, “Minnesota, which has a significant Native student population, has the lowest four-year adjusted graduation rate, with only 42 percent of students graduating with a diploma in four years.”


American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis.

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