U.S. High School Graduation Rate Hits 82.3 Percent, Report Finds

While the U.S. high school graduation rate rose to a record high of 82.3 percent in 2014, the nation is not on track to reach the goal of achieving a 90 percent rate by 2020, a study from Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University's School of Education finds.

Conducted in partnership with America's Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, the annual update from GradNation, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates (94 pages, PDF) found that while Iowa has achieved a 90 percent graduation rate and twenty other states are on track to do so by 2020, for the first time in four years the nation as a whole is not on track to meet the goal. According to the study, 2,397 low-graduation-rate high schools — defined under the Every Student Succeeds Act as those with at least a hundred students enrolled and an Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate of 67 percent or lower — enrolled a total of 1.2 million students nationwide, even as the number of large low-graduation-rate schools with at least three hundred students was halved from 2,000 to 1,000 between 2002 and 2014. In forty-one states, low-income students accounted for more than 40 percent of those enrolled in low-performing schools — including twelve states where they made up more than 75 percent of the student body — while African Americans and Latinos made up more than 40 percent of enrollment in low-graduation-rate schools in fifteen and nine states, respectively.

The study also found that low-graduation-rate schools account for 7 percent of all district schools (and 41 percent of all low-graduation-rate schools), 30 percent of charter schools (26 percent), 57 percent of alternative schools (28 percent), and 87 percent of virtual schools (7 percent). The report recommends that policy makers set clear definitions and give graduation rates the weight they deserve in ESSA; require all states to report extended-year graduation rates in addition to four-year grad rates; create evidence-based plans to improve low-graduation-rate high schools; and ensure that alternative and virtual schools are included in state accountability and improvement systems.

"As the report points out, raising the graduation rate to 90 percent would require graduating an additional 285,000 students," said America's Promise Alliance president and CEO John Gomperts. "Putting it that way makes the goal appear that much more attainable. But to graduate this additional number of students equitably, the nation will have to focus on getting significantly more low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, English-language learners, and homeless youth on track to earning a diploma. Persistence is key."