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High School Dropout, Graduation, and Completion Rates: Better Data, Better Measures, Better Decisions
RECOMMENDATION 3-2: Rates should be accompanied with documentation about the underlying decisions that were made regarding students who transfer from one school to another, are retained in grade, receive a GED or an alternative diploma, and take longer than four years to graduate.
The federal government requires states and districts to produce four-year graduation rates that include diploma recipients only. There are compelling reasons for using this statistic as the primary indicator of high school completion. Without a common definition such as this, graduation rates will not be comparable across districts, states, or time. However, there are also legitimate reasons for producing more inclusive completion indicators that allow students more time to complete high school and that include other forms of completion, such as GEDs and alternative diplomas. On this issue, we make two recommendations. We endorse the inclusion of dropout and completion indicators in accountability policy but recommend that a variety of statistics be reported, specifically:
RECOMMENDATION 2-1: Federal and state accountability policy should require schools and districts to report a number of types of dropout, graduation, and completion rates: for all students and for students grouped by race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, English language learner status, and disability status. Furthermore, accountability policy should require schools and districts to set and meet meaningful progress goals for improving their graduation and dropout rates. Rates that are used for accountability should be carefully structured and reported in ways that minimize bias resulting from student mobility and subgroup definitions.
RECOMMENDATION 3-4: In addition to the standard graduation rate that is limited to four-year recipients of regular diplomas, states and districts should produce a comprehensive completion rate that includes all forms of completion and allows students up to six years for completion. This rate should be used as a supplemental indicator to the four-year graduation rate, which should continue to be used as the primary indicator for gauging school, district, and state performance.
Because decisions about how to handle various groups of students can affect the rates, we think it is important to supplement dropout and completion indicators with information to help users accurately interpret them. For instance, schools and states have different policies for handling transfer students. Some states require transfers to be officially verified before the student can be removed from a school’s roster; others have more lenient verification policies. Some schools have policies that implicitly or explicitly encourage