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A Look at States' Progress Toward a Common Graduation Rate

Remember back in 2005 when all of the country's governors, prodded by the National Governors Association, agreed to report their high school graduation rates with the same, four-year-cohort calculation?

A progress report released by the NGA today tells us that 20 of the states—four more than last year—now report their graduation rate this way, with another five planning to do so later this year. During 2010, a total of 33 states should be on board, with another dozen joining them in 2011, the NGA found through its survey. That means they tell the public what portion of the incoming freshman class finishes with diplomas four years later.

The report also details which of the states currently use the four-year-cohort rate to meet graduation-rate-accountability requirements under No Child Left Behind, and which have the data systems they need to track individual students for a more-accurate calculation of their graduation rates. It looks at which states are reporting "additional indicators" such as five- or six-year graduation rates, or rates of college readiness, in-grade retention, or completion of alternative credentials.

Last year's progress report and other materials about the Graduation Counts compact are here.

Some of the things governors agreed to do by signing the NGA compact are now being required by the federal government. You might recall that last fall, then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued new regulations requiring states to calculate their graduation rates using a version of the four-year-cohort that is a bit stricter than the NGA's, and to break out those results by subgroup. States have to report that data by the 2010-11 school year, and use it for adequate yearly progress determinations by the 2011-12 year.

(Those regulations also let states apply for permission to get some credit for students who take longer than four years to graduate.)

The NGA reports that three states (Hawaii, Idaho, and Illinois) did not specify a date by which they will report graduation rates according to the four-year-cohort method, and two more (Kentucky and Wisconsin) indicated that they plan to seek a waiver from the federal 2011 deadline.

Some states worried that when they started using the NGA method, their graduation-rate numbers would drop, since their previous methods might have, ahem, underestimated their problem. A tiny sidebar on page 9 of today's NGA report says the changes in numbers "do not always bear out negatively."

It points out the case of Virginia, whose graduation rate was 80 percent in 2007 under its old method, but went up to 82.1 percent in 2008 using the NGA method. The NGA says that some states have seen "a drop" in their rates, but it doesn't offer any examples.

It would be intriguing to see a complete list of the states and how their numbers changed once they started using the NGA's calculation method.

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