August 2, 2007
A Study Finds Some States Lagging on Graduation Rates 
Dozens of states accept any improvement in high school graduation rates as adequate progress, and several set a goal of graduating fewer than 60 percent of their students, according to a study released yesterday by the Education Trust in Washington. 

While the No Child Left Behind law has created a national focus on reading and math proficiencies, it has done little to raise expectations for the number of students graduating from high school, the report said. 

Because the law allowed states wide latitude, the goals for graduation rates vary widely. Nevada, for example, says its goal is to graduate 50 percent of its students; Iowa sets a target of 95 percent.

Under the federal law, states must also set targets for annual improvements, but several states say that any progress at all * even just one more diploma * is good enough, according to data collected from the Department of Education. 

The report found that state-set goals for raising graduation rates are “far too low to spur needed improvement.”

“The high school diploma is the bare minimum credential necessary to have a fighting chance at successful participation in the work force of civil society,” it said. “Yet current high school accountability policies represent a stunning indifference to whether young people actually earn this critical credential.” 

But the report also found that the states’ goals are too modest to raise frequently mediocre rates of graduation. In Wisconsin, a high school can be considered to be making enough progress even it improves to just 60.01 percent, the report said.

The expectations for improvement “serve as an alarming indicator of an unwillingness to address the critical need of our high schools,” wrote Daria Hall, the author of the report. “We need targets that provoke action on behalf of the students, not ones that condone the status quo.”

In a speech this week, Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, chairman of the House Education Committee and an architect of the original No Child Left Behind legislation, said reauthorization of that law should include changes so that graduation rates were used as a key measure of performance. 

The report praised New York City schools for making sizable improvements in the past three years. But while New York has raised its graduation rate by six percentage points over the last three years, it still hovers around 50 percent. For the class of 2006, just 41 percent of Latino students graduated in four years. 

Ross Wiener, vice president for policy and practice at the Education Trust, a research group in Washington, said that states should aim to have 90 percent of students graduate in four years and that schools that did not meet that goal should improve their graduation rate by five percentage points over two years. 

The report criticized states as not doing enough to track low-income and minority students.

Education Trust: