Learning from the U.S. Department of Education’s Grad Data

This month, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) released new state- and school-level data on graduation rates for the 2010-2011 school year.  Before this year, states used a variety of methods to calculate high school graduation rates, so standardizing the formula for all states makes comparing states and individual schools easier and far more accurate. Using the new data system, now anyone can compare graduation rates–from Kemmerer High School in Lincoln County, Wyoming to Sheehan High School in Wallingford, Connecticut.

Making this type of information publicly available is a step towards fostering accountability for the public education system. Tracking accurate, comparable information will also serve to highlight best practices in improving graduation rates.

The availability of this graduation data is not new for Connecticut.  (The Connecticut State Department of Education released similar comprehensive district and school graduation rate reports last November.)  However, the USDE’s release is significant for the nation because it is the first initiative to comprehensively compare standardized graduation rates for schools across the nation. “Having good information is critical to making good decisions, and these high school graduation rates are a vital tool to help parents and school leaders make useful comparisons of student growth and success,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These data will also help state, district, and school leaders better gauge progress and support their work to help more students graduate on time, ready for college and careers.” So just how does Connecticut compare to other states?

Overall, Connecticut ranks 12th—graduating 83% of its student population.  Not bad, but the findings aren’t so positive when we look at some demographic groups.  While Connecticut ranks 20th for success in graduating its Black students, it ranks 40th for low-income students and 34th for Hispanic students.  The results are yet another example of Connecticut’s unacceptably wide achievement gap.   (To find more information about how Connecticut compares to the rest of the nation, click here.)

There is still work to be done, however, because requirements for graduation still differ from state to state. This means that in some states students are required to take more math or science classes, or to obtain more credits in general, to graduate. Once the Common Core College- and Career-Ready standards are implemented in states across the country, we will be able to compare both rates of graduation and level of preparedness for college and careers beyond high school.  More importantly, students will know early on in high school, what they need to do to be well prepared to attend college or pursue the career of their dreams.