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Student Success in High School Varies by State and Circumstance

High school graduation rates have climbed to record levels, yet new research reveals success for American students is uneven.

The likelihood of getting a diploma is linked to circumstances often outside of students' control: being born into a poor family, having a disability, or being an underrepresented minority.

A new analysis using the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate shows that 81 percent of the Class of 2013 graduated within four years according to Education Week's recently released report, Diplomas Count 2015, this is an improvement of 2 percentage points over 2011.

Yet, there was wide variation throughout the country. In Iowa, the graduation rate was 90 percent in 2013; in the District of Columbia, 62 percent of students graduated on time. (See a map of graduation rates by state and student group here.)

Low-income students are less likely to graduate on time in every state. Nationally, their graduation rate is 73 percent. It was as high as 85 percent in Kentucky and Texas, and as low as 59 percent in the District of Columbia.

This year's issue of Diplomas Count 2015 highlighted the challenges of students with disabilities, who have a 62 percent on-time graduation rate. While 19 percentage points lower than the overall national rate, it has improved since 2010-11 when the U.S. Department of Education first required uniform reporting and the rate was 59 percent.

Christina Samuels writes about the uncertain future that students in special education face after high school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gave students with disabilities the right to be educated in public schools alongside their peers, but the system of support after K-12 is not as developed. Samuels describes a technical assistance center providing transition guidance for families and a new focus in the schools on preparing students with disabilities for success after graduation, which are hopeful signs. Yet, the recent report from the Education Department's office for civil rights shows that claims of discrimination based on disability dominate complaints received by the office.

As for all students, but particularly those with disabilities, getting genuine employment experience while still in high school and developing strong self-advocacy skills are key in their long-term career success. In another story in the report, Samuels talks with experts who underscore the importance of involving families and engaging the broader community in these efforts rather than leaving the job of transition planning entirely up to the schools

To learn more about the issues facing students with disabilities who enroll in college, see Holly Yettick's article in the report about "College Special-Need Students Face Choice: Seek Help or Go it Alone?"

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