Tool 4 – Graduation Rate Methods

Many people believe that “almost everyone” in their community graduates. State figures traditionally have underestimated the number of dropouts, and overestimated the number of graduates.

In addition, people often get confused by the fact that the dropout rate is not the inverse of the graduation rate. That is, if the dropout rate is 7 percent, the graduation rate isn’t necessarily 93 percent. This variation is the result of how rates are calculated. Dropout rates are snapshots taken at one moment in time, of all the dropouts in a district or school in a range of grade levels, usually grades 7 to 12 or grades 9 to 12. Graduation rates follow a group of students from grade 9 to grade 12 through diplomas.

Also, in the past graduation rates have been figured differently from state to state. Only recently have they become standardized. The U.S. Department of Education is now requiring every school to use the same formula for determining its graduation rate – this is known as the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate or ACGR. Although all schools were to begin using this measure with the Class of 2011, all did not do so. There are, however, 47 states and the District of Columbia using the new cohort rate. Unless you are in Idaho, Kentucky, or Oklahoma, you can find state and district statistics reflecting the new, more uniform rate. By establishing the baseline, you can start to show why there’s a need to increase graduation rates – and then show how your efforts are making a difference.

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