Public high school graduation rate climbs to 80 percent

| Sunday, April 27, 2014, 11:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Public high schools have reached a high point — 80 percent of students are graduating — and researchers project the rate will reach 90 percent by 2020.

The researchers' report, based on Education Department statistics from 2012, was being presented on Monday at the Building a GradNation Summit.

America's Promise Alliance, which was founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, the public policy firm Civic Enterprises and the education group Alliance for Excellent Education produced the report.

The growth in the graduation rate has been spurred by improvement in rates among black and Hispanic students, as well as factors such as greater awareness of the dropout problem and efforts by districts, states and the government to include graduation rates in accountability measures, researchers found. Among the initiatives are closing “dropout factory” schools, which are those that graduate less than 60 percent of students.

Schools also are taking aggressive action, such as hiring intervention specialists to work with students to keep them in class, researchers said.

Most of the growth has occurred since 2006.

“At a moment when everything seems so broken and seems so unfixable ... this story tells you something completely different,” said John Gomperts, president of America's Promise Alliance.

The 80 percent rate is based on federal statistics, primarily using a calculation by which the number of graduates in a given is year divided by the number of students who enrolled four years earlier. Adjustments are made for transfer students.

In 2008, the Bush administration ordered all states to begin using the method. States had used a wide variety of ways to calculate high school graduation rates.

Iowa, Vermont, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Texas ranked at the top with rates at 88 percent or 89 percent. The bottom performers were Alaska, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon and Nevada, which had rates at 70 percent or below.

Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma were not included because they received federal permission to take longer to roll out their system.

The calculation method allows researchers to follow students individually and chart their progress based on their income level. By doing so, researchers found that some states are doing much better than others in getting low-income students — or those who receive free or reduced lunch meals — to graduation day.

Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, for example, have more than half of their students counted as low-income but overall graduation rates that are above average. In contrast, Minnesota, Wyoming and Alaska have a lower percentage of low-income students but a lower than average overall graduation rate.

Graduation rates increased 15 percentage points for Hispanic students and 9 percentage points for black students from 2006 to 2012, with the Hispanic students graduating at 76 percent and African-American students at 68 percent, the report said.

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