The NCSL Blog

06

By Madeleine Webster

In the fall of 2016, the U.S. celebrated a fifth straight year of record-high national graduation rates, at an all-time high of 83.2 percent.

kids on school stepsThis means that about four of every five high school students graduated with a standard diploma within four years of starting the ninth grade.

Even more promising, all reported student groups made gains on a national average, shrinking the long-standing gaps between these students and their peers, though a large gap still persists.

Iowa reported the highest rate, graduating 90 percent of its students, and though the District of Columbia reported the lowest rate, at 68.5 percent, it also made some of the biggest gains, increasing its rate by 9.5 percent since 2010-11.

Graduation Rates by Student subgroup

 

 

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Percent Change from 2010-11

American Indian/ Alaska Native

65

67

70

69.6

71.6

6.6

Asian/ Pacific Islander

87

88

89

89.4

90.2

3.2

Hispanic

71

73

75

76.3

77.8

6.8

Black

67

69

71

72.5

74.6

7.6

White

84

86

87

87.2

87.6

3.6

English Learners

57

59

61

62.6

65.1

8.1

Students with Disabilities

59

61

62

63.1

64.6

5.6

Low Income

70

72

73

74.6

76.1

6.1

 

Though these successes are certainly reason for celebration, graduation rates are just one indicator of the effectiveness of our education system. Other indicators, like national performance on standardized tests and the college remediation rate, tell a different story.

High school student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is stagnating, and on the ACT and SAT, it’s flat lining. A number of research studies  demonstrate that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of first-year college students require remediation in a variety of subjects, and even higher percentages among minority and low-income students.

Indeed, there are a wide variety of indicators of college and career readiness, and many of the states’ track and report these indicators differently.

Achieve, a national nonprofit focused on college and career readiness, recently published a study, The State of American Graduates: What States Know (and Don’t) About Student Performance, detailing each of the 50 state systems for judging their students’ college and career readiness.

They found that “Even when states report data, comparing student outcomes across states is difficult,” because states use different indicators of readiness, use different measurements for these indicators, and report their numbers differently. In the states where specific indicator data is available, the numbers are discouraging. For example, in the nine states which administer a college and career ready assessment aligned with their state standards, fewer than 80 percent of students are meeting state benchmarks.

 These numbers and others indicate a misalignment between the bar states set for graduation and the bar for college and career readiness. To better align their systems, states are redefining what it means to prepare students for college and career, and how best to measure their readiness.

Madeleine Webster is a policy associate with NCSL's Education Program.

Email Madeleine

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.