Because states use various ways of calculating graduation rates, it's been difficult to know exactly how bad the high school completion problem is. But new federal rules and a governors' agreement are working to push states into using a common method of calculating graduation rates.
Evidence of this comes from a new report by the National Governors Association, which finds that more than half the states are publicly reporting their graduation rates based on that formula during this calendar year, and 48 plan to do so for the graduating class of 2011. They will use something called the "four-year adjusted cohort rate," which essentially tells us the percentage of the entering freshman class that finished high school with a regular diploma four years later.
Two forces have helped this come about. One was a 2005 agreement by the governors of all 50 states to adopt this common formula and beef up their data collection so they can better understand how well their high school students are faring. The NGA's new report is the latest in a series tracking implementation of the agreements it helped bring about.
Another was a set of federal regulations published in 2008 that require states to report their graduation rates according to the new formula in 2010-11, and use that method for accountability under No Child Left Behind by 2011-12. (It also permits states to request permission to get partial credit for students who take five or six years to graduate, and requires them to report grad rates at the school, district, and state levels, and for each subgroup of students, not just the overall class.)