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Knowledge From the Field

Every Student Counts: The Role of Federal Policy in Improving Graduation Rate Accountability

Published: March 2009

Publisher(s): Alliance for Excellent Education

Author(s): Richmond, Eric

Funder(s): AT&T Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

View Report (14 pages; 541KB; PDF)

Area of focus: Accountability


The growing agreement that measuring student outcomes is an important indicator of school performance has led to the continued refinement of graduation rate calculations that are accurate, consistent, and comparable across institutions. This report provides background information on the movement toward better data collection, common graduation rate calculations, and meaningful accountability for raising graduation rates. It describes in detail the federal policy changes and regulations, which reflect both the significant progress that has been made and the hurdles that remain. Recommendations are made on the role federal policy should play in more accurately tracking and improving high school graduation rates.

Key Findings and/or Recommendations

= Federal policy should set a high, universal graduation goal and an aggressive but attainable minimum growth target.

= Federal policy should specify what the interaction of four-year and extended-year graduation rates should be to ensure high standards and transparency, and take appropriate measures to ensure that primacy remains on helping most students graduate in four years.

= Nearly every state should have the data capacity to calculate a four-year adjusted cohort rate by SY 201011.

= The Department of Education should more strictly enforce adherence to exit coding requirements as they relate to the calculation of graduation rates. Moreover, the secretary should require that each state report a description of every category, code, and the corresponding definitions used to track student status, and a description of how they are used in the calculation of graduation rates.

= The Department of Education should be able to consider the needs of schools that do not fit the model of a four-year high school while at the same time ensuring that those schools are held to adequate goals and targets.

Geographic Focus: National

Subjects/Keywords: Accountability; teacher quality; low-performing schools; assessment; education

+ Successful strategy
= Observation
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