low-performing students to transfer elsewhere. These low-performing students may be more likely to transfer to schools that have little control over their enrollments, rather than to schools that have control over which students enroll (such as charter schools). Documentation of how transfers are handled is critical for interpreting school-level rates. Also useful is an estimate of the transfer and/or leave rate and supplementary graduation and dropout rates that do not remove transfers or incorporate new students. This additional information would allow examination of the ways in which schools’ policies for handling transfer students affect the reported rates.
Policies for grade retention also vary across schools, districts, states, and time. These policies, and particularly year-to-year changes in these policies, can cause trends in the rates to fluctuate over time. Age-based cohort rates can provide information to help users understand and evaluate trends in grade-based rates. Age-based rates have the advantage that they are unaffected by patterns in grade retention that may have affected one cohort differentially from another. They are also more inclusive, in that they can include students who never make it to high school and include special education students with their peers.
If the limitations associated with a reported rate are made explicit, supplemental rates can be calculated to verify any conclusions that are based on the statistics. This would require data to be available to calculate the supplemental statistics. We therefore recommend:
RECOMMENDATION 3-3: To the extent possible, data should be made available to allow supplementary rates to be calculated that compensate for the limitations in reported rates and help users to further understand the rates. Types of supplementary information include transfer rates, rates that do not remove transfer students or incorporate new students, age-based rates, and the percentage of students with unknown graduation status.
Throughout this report, we have discussed the variety of kinds of rates (e.g., status rates, event rates, cohort rates based on individual data, and cohort rates based on aggregated data) and the advantages and disadvantages of each. We have emphasized that decisions about which rate to report should be based on the intended uses. Some rates are more appropriate for providing information about the human capital of the country’s population, some are more appropriate for characterizing the holding power of schools, and some are more appropriate for characterizing students’ success at navigating through high school. When selecting from among the various kinds of rates, users should keep the underlying purpose in mind. We therefore recommend:
RECOMMENDATION 4-1: The choice of a dropout or completion indicator should be based on the purpose and uses of the indicator.