High School Graduation
Like the dropout rate, the high school graduation rate is a powerful indicator of the health of Virginia's school system and of the future success of its young citizens. Virginia's high school graduation rate has remained above the national average in the last decade.
Why is This Important?
The high school graduation rate is one measure of the success of a state's elementary and secondary educational system and the quality of its workforce. Completion of high school or its equivalent is increasingly the minimum level of education sought by employers; moreover, unemployment rates are lower and lifetime earnings are substantially higher for high school graduates than for high school dropouts.
How is Virginia Doing?
Regional graduation data is based on Virginia's on-time cohort graduation data. (See Data Definitions and Sources.) Graduation rates continued to improve in all of Virginia's regions in 2012-2013, with the statewide average rising to 89.1 percent. The Northern (91.6%) and Valley (91.0%) regions had rates that exceed the statewide average. And although below the state average, the remaining regions all saw improvement in their graduation rates: Central (88.7%), Southwest (89.0%), Eastern (87.8%), West Central (87.7%), Hampton Roads (87.0%), and Southside (86.5%).
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education began to report an alternative, improved measure called the Four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, which provides a more accurate snapshot of state high school graduation performance. Under this formula, Virginia's chohort graduation rate in 2011 was 82 percent, earning a rank of 19th best in the nation. Virginia's rate was lower than Tennessee (86%) and Maryland (83%) but higher than North Carolina (78%). At 88 percent, Iowa had the highest Four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate in 2011.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has traditionally used a different formula to estimate graduation rates among the states. (See Data Definitions and Sources.) According to the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, Virginia's overall high school graduation rate in 2010 (the most current year available) was 81.2 percent, the 20th highest in the country. Virginia's graduation rate has consistently been above the NCES national average, which in 2010 was 78.2 percent. Virginia had a higher graduation rate than Tennessee (80.4%) and North Carolina (76.9%), but a lower rate than Maryland (82.2%). The leading state, Vermont, had a 91.4 percent average graduation rate in 2010.
What Influences High School Graduation Rates?
Socio-economic factors play a role in graduation and dropout rates. In a 2006 report, Civic Enterprises cited lack of motivation, financial troubles, poor preparation, and lack of success as common reasons some students did not complete their studies.
Family income can help ensure a stable financial environment. Parents and educators can exert positive influence in preparing children for success in high school, and can help them cope with difficulties both personal and academic. Parental education level is strongly correlated with a student's own academic achievement.
What is the State's Role?
The state can help facilitate higher graduation rates mainly by ensuring that Virginia's education system has adequate resources and infrastructure and -- through accountability mechanisms like the Standards of Accreditation -- that these resources are used effectively. In addition, state programs like Project Graduation can identify and assist at-risk students, helping keep them in school and on track for graduation.
Data Definitions and Sources
School Graduation Rates
by Virginia Region
Data Source: Virginia Department of Education. The reader should note that the Virginia Department of Education employs a different definition for the high school graduation rate than the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate and Four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate used by the U.S. Department of Education. Virginia uses an on-time high school graduation rate, which is calculated as a percentage of the corresponding cohort of students entering the freshman class four years prior who earn a diploma approved by the Board of Education (Advanced Studies, Standard, Modified Standard, Special and General Achievement); the percentage is adjusted for students who moved and those who were held back or promoted.
Average Freshman Graduation Rate. Rates are based on estimates
of the entering freshman class four years
earlier, using averages from eighth, ninth, and tenth
grade students. For example, for the 2002-03 school
year, the number of public school diploma recipients
is divided by the average eighth-grade enrollment in
1998-99, ninth-grade enrollment in 1999-2000, and tenth-grade
enrollment in 2000-01. Graduates include only
those who earned regular or advanced diplomas as defined
by their state or district.
(updated annually in October)
Four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate. Rates include only Standard and Advanced Studies diplomas in the numerator of the graduation rate. Three states (Idaho, Kentucky, and Oklahoma) did not submit data for this reporting cycle.
ED Data Express, http://eddataexpress.ed.gov
Civic Enterprises, "The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts," March 2006 (pdf).
Notes on Graduation Rate Measurements
Graduation and dropout rates can be measured by cohort, event, or status.
Cohort rates track a group of individuals over time. The Graduation indicator provides cohort information by estimating the fraction of ninth graders who graduate or complete high school four years later.
In fall 2008, Virginia for the first time reported a cohort graduation rate based on an actual count of students who were first-time 9th grade students in the 2004-2005 school year. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education began to report state graduation rates using the same cohort graduation method.
Event rates reveal short-term, year-to-year changes and are useful for evaluating the influences of different events or policies. The Dropout indicator is an event indicator because it measures the number of times in a year that a dropout occurred.
Status rates provide broader information about a population. Status rates are used for the Educational Attainment indicator, which reveals the cumulative educational attainment of all individuals within a certain age range, not just those who had been enrolled in public high school at one point in time.
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.