about how to include transfer students and students retained in grade in the cohort can have a major impact on its size and on the rate that is calculated.

At the workshop, Elaine Allensworth, with the Consortium on Chicago School Research, made a presentation about the kinds of decisions that must be made and the ways that they affect the calculation of the rates. This chapter is drawn from her paper (Allensworth, 2008).

DECISIONS AFFECTING THE NUMERATOR

Distinguishing Between Graduation and Completion

There is generally little ambiguity about who has obtained a high school diploma—lists of graduates must be maintained. However, there are multiple means of completing school besides earning a regular diploma, and not all students complete high school in the same time span. Accounting for different forms of completion has become increasingly complicated. In addition to granting diplomas, schools may offer programs that award General Educational Development (GED) credentials, or students may receive GEDs outside a K-12 school system.2 Some districts offer alternative schools for students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, and these schools may grant diplomas based on easier standards than the regular high school standards.3 A number of states offer different levels of diplomas or grant certificates of attendance for students who do not pass state-required examinations or meet other criteria (Laird et al., 2008). Growth in home schooling and distance learning further complicates the ways in which completion is defined (National Institute of Statistical Sciences and the Education Statistics Services Institute, 2005).

There are a number of valid reasons for producing graduation rates that include only students who earn a regular high school diploma. There is little evidence that alternative methods of completion benefit most students who pursue these pathways to finishing high school. As noted in Chapter 1, GED recipients do not usually realize the same economic outcomes as high school graduates and are less likely to pursue higher education. Also, there is substantial variability across states and districts in the extent to which other forms of completion are available and recorded in an accessible manner.4 Constraining

2

Pallas (1989) provides a good description of the GED, as well as issues around alternative credentials and the different paths through which students may eventually obtain a diploma or credential or drop out.

3

This is the case in Chicago, where alternative schools require students to complete the requirements set by the state for a diploma, rather than the much more demanding requirements set by the district.

4

Data on alternative diplomas, GEDs, are not always recorded if provided by entities other than regular K-12 schools. This can be seen in the Common Core of Data, which allows three categories of completers to be reported (diploma recipients—included in the graduation rate, high school



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