HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT, GRADUATION, AND COMPLETION RATES
Better Data, Better Measures, Better Decisions
Robert M. Hauser and Judith Anderson Koenig, Editors
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL and NATIONAL ACADEMY OF EDUCATION
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by Award No. B 8143 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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Suggested citation: National Research Council and National Academy of Education. (2011). High School Dropout, Graduation, and Completion Rates: Better Data, Better Measures, Better Decisions. Committee for Improved Measurement of High School Dropout and Completion Rates: Expert Guidance on Next Steps for Research and Policy Workshop. R.M. Hauser and J.A. Koenig, Editors. Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
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COMMITTEE FOR IMPROVED MEASUREMENT OF HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT AND COMPLETION RATES: EXPERT GUIDANCE ON NEXT STEPS FOR RESEARCH AND POLICY WORKSHOP
Robert M. Hauser (Chair),
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council, Washington, DC, and
Vilas Research Professor,
Emeritus, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Consortium on Chicago School Research, University of Chicago
G. Lavan Dukes,
Florida Department of Education, Tallahassee
School of Education, Stanford University
Russell W. Rumberger,
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara
John Robert Warren,
Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Patricia I. Wright,
Virginia Department of Education, Richmond
Judith Anderson Koenig, Study Director
Stuart Elliott, Director,
Board on Testing and Assessment
Kelly Duncan, Senior Project Assistant
Rose Neugroschel, Research Assistant
High school graduation and dropout rates have long been used as a central indicator of education system productivity and effectiveness and of social and economic well-being. Today, interest in the accuracy and usefulness of these statistics is particularly acute because of changing demographics, new legislative mandates, and heightened political pressures to reduce the numbers and rates of dropouts. Despite this strong need for sound and reliable measures of high school dropout and completion rates, there has been widespread disagreement among researchers, statisticians, and policy analysts about the “true” rates, how they are best measured, and what trends are evident over time. At a time when policy makers are vitally interested in tracking the incidence of dropping out of school, they are faced with choosing among substantially discrepant estimates that would lead them to different conclusions regarding both the size of the dropout problem and how it has changed in recent years.
In 2008 the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academy of Education decided to jointly undertake a project focused on improving understanding of these rates and specifically (1) to explore the strengths, weaknesses, and accuracy of available rates; (2) to gather information on the state of the art with respect to constructing longitudinal student accounting systems for measuring dropout and completion rates; (3) to identify the kinds of analyses that are needed in order to understand changes in the rates; and (4) to consider ways that information on dropout and completion rates can used to improve practice at the local level and public policies at the state and national levels. The project was funded by the Carnegie Corporation. A steering committee
was formed to convene a workshop addressing these topics and to make recommendations about best practices in calculating and reporting dropout and completion rates. The committee members were chosen for their expertise in education research, policy, and administration; education statistics and data systems; school organization; school-leaving processes; and minority education.
The Workshop on Improved Measurement of High School Dropout and Completion Rates: Expert Guidance on Next Steps for Research and Policy was held on October 23 and 24, 2008, in Washington, DC. The workshop agenda and a list of participants are in Appendix A. Biographical sketches of committee members and staff appear in Appendix B. The background papers and workshop transcript are posted on the NRC website at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bota/High_School_Dropouts_Workshop_Agenda.html.
Many people contributed to the success of this project. The committee first expresses its appreciation to the members of the Research Advisory Committee of the National Academy of Education, chaired by Alan Schoenfeld, University of California, Berkeley. I am grateful to my colleagues on that committee for their leadership and support in bringing this project to fruition, including: Richard Atkinson, University of California; James Banks, University of Washington; Margaret Eisenhart, University of Colorado, Boulder; Michael Feuer, National Research Council; Ellen Lagemann, Bard College; Michael McPherson, Spencer Foundation; Lauren Resnick, University of Pittsburgh; Lorrie Shepard, University of Colorado, Boulder; and Marshall Smith, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. We also gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Gregory White, executive director, and Andrea Solarz, director of research initiatives, both with the National Academy of Education; both offered many helpful suggestions throughout the course of this project.
On behalf of the committee, we also acknowledge the scholars who wrote papers and made presentations at the workshop, which provided the intellectual foundations for this report: Robert Balfanz, Johns Hopkins University; Wesley Bruce, Indiana Department of Education; Robert Curtin, Massachusetts Department of Education; Noelle Ellerson, American Association of School Administrators; Delegate Ana Sol Gutiérrez, Maryland State Legislature; Jeanine Hildreth, Baltimore City Schools; Dan Losen, Civil Rights Project; Deborah Newby, U.S. Department of Education; Aaron Pallas, Teachers College, Columbia University; Mel Riddile, National Association of Secondary School Principals; Richard Rothstein, Economics Policy Institute; Bill Smith, Sioux Falls School District, South Dakota; Nancy Smith, Data Quality Campaign; Chris Swanson, Editorial Projects in Education; Robin Taylor, Delaware Department of Education; and David Wakelyn, National Governors Association.
The committee also thanks the NRC staff of the Board on Testing and Assessment who worked on this project: Kelly Duncan, senior project assistant,
for her expert skills in organizing the workshop and two committee meetings; Rose Neugroschel, research assistant, for her careful attention to detail in finalizing this manuscript; and director Stuart Elliott, for his contributions in formulating the workshop design and making it a reality. We especially thank Judy Koenig for her intellectual and organizational skills as the study director. And we thank Patricia Morison, associate executive director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education for her support and guidance at key stages in this project.
Finally, as chair of the committee, I thank the committee members for their dedication and outstanding contributions to this project. They actively assisted in all stages of this project, including planning the workshop and identifying presenters, preparing papers and leading workshop discussions, and writing and rewriting multiple versions of this report. They gave generously of their time to ensure that the final product accurately represents the workshop discussions, is understandable to a variety of audiences, and fully portrays the complex issues associated with calculating dropout and completion rates. We particularly acknowledge Elaine Allensworth’s contribution to Chapter 3, Rob Warren’s contribution to Chapter 4, Lavan Dukes’ contribution to Chapter 6, and Russ Rumberger’s contribution to Chapter 7.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Wes Bruce, Department of Education, State of Indiana; Duncan Chaplin, Human Services Research Division, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; Alan F. Karr, Director’s Office, National Institute of Statistical Sciences; Ruth Lopez Turley, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Samuel R. Lucas, Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley; Richard J. Murnane, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University; Stephen W. Raudenbush, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago; and Julian Vasquez Heilig, University Council for Educational Administration, Department of Education Administration, University of Texas, Austin.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Lorraine McDonnell, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Lawrence D. Brown, Department of Statistics,
Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Robert M. Hauser, Chair
Committee for Improved Measurement of High School Dropout and Completion
Rates: Expert Guidance on Next Steps for Research and Policy Workshop