rate and supplementary graduation/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 can 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, although 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.
The federal government requires states and districts to produce 4-year graduation rates that include diploma recipients only. As discussed above, there are compelling reasons for using this statistic as the primary indicator of high school completion. However, there are also legitimate reasons to produce more inclusive completion indicators that allow students more time to complete high school and include other forms of completion, such as GEDs and alternative diplomas. Unless there is a common definition, such statistics will not be comparable across districts and states and over time. We therefore recommend:
RECOMMENDATION 3-4: In addition to the standard graduation rate that is limited to 4-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 should be used as a supplemental indicator to the 4-year graduation rate, which should continue to be used as the primary indicator for gauging school, district, and state performance.
As part of the NCLB regulations, states and districts are expected to report disaggregated graduation rates, such as for students grouped by low-income