High School Graduation

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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 for 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 usually 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?

On-Time High School Graduation Rate by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.Regional graduation data is based on Virginia's on-time cohort graduation data. (See Data Definitions and Sources.) Graduation rates continued to improve in nearly every Virginia region in 2015-2016: Two regions saw close to a 2-percentage point increase over the previous year, while another three regions reported progress of one percentage point or better. As a result, the statewide average rose to 91.3 percent.

The Northern, Valley and Southwest regions shared the highest graduation rate at 92.2 percent; the West Central region, which saw the greatest improvement over the 2015 school year, also had a rate (91.5%) above the state average. The remaining regions except Southside (88.7%) were all close to the state average: Central (90.8%), Eastern (90.7%), and Hampton Roads (91.0%).

National High School Graduation Rate by Cohort. See text for explanation.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 national high school graduation performance. Under this formula, Virginia's cohort graduation rate in 2015 was 85.7 percent, earning a rank of 20th best in the nation. Virginia's rate was lower than Tennessee (87.9%) and Maryland (87.0%), but slightly higher than North Carolina (85.6%). At 90.8 percent, Iowa again had the highest Four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate for 2015.

What Influences High School Graduation Rates?

Socio-economic factors play a significant role in graduation and dropout rates: Family income, parental education levels, race, cultural expectations and behaviors, and the availability and consistency of adult and community support are all important aspects behind student success -- and failure.

According to America's Promise Alliance, African-American and Hispanic/Latino students in 2014 were still graduating 10-15 points behind the national average for white students, while low-income students graduated at a rate more than 14 percentage points below the rate for their non-low-income peers.

It is also important to acknowledge that the pattern for student success (or trouble) starts as early as kindergarten. A student's decision to drop out of high school typically comes at the end of a long process of increasing disengagement from school -- one argument against the common practice of disciplining students by suspending or expelling them.

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. Educators can identify at-risk students as early as possible and work through a variety of interventions to overcome those disadvantages. Finally, system-wide assessment tools like Virginia's Standards of Learning can provide both educators and taxpayers with a wealth of data on how well their school, region, and state are performing.

Page last modified December 14, 2016

On-Time High School Graduation Rates by Virginia Region.

High School Cohort Graduation Rates by State.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

High 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 what constitutes graduation from high school than that used by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Both Virginia and DOE calculate graduation rates based on 4-year student cohorts: Virginia uses an on-time cohort graduation rate, which is calculated as a percentage of the corresponding cohort of students entering the freshman class four years prior; DOE uses a similar Four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate. The chief difference lies in Virginia's more generous range of diplomas that count toward graduation and which are approved by the Board of Education: Advanced Studies, Standard, Modified Standard, Special and General Achievement; DOE includes only the Standard and Advanced Studies diplomas.

High School Graduation Rates by State
Data Source: National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

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 either the 2011 or 2012 reporting cycles; Idaho did not submit data for 2013.
ED Data Express,

America's Promise Alliance, "High School Graduation Facts: Ending the Dropout Crisis"

2016 Building a Grad Nation Annual Report

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.

At a Glance:
High School Graduation in Virginia

Performance Trend:  Trend is improving.
State Influence:  

Virginia by Region: Nearly every region in the state made gains in its high school graduation rate for the 2015-16 school year, bumping the statewide average up to 91.3 percent.

National Ranking: Virginia's rank rose to 20th in the nation for high school graduation in 2015.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Algebra Readiness Initiative prepares middle school students for success in Algebra I through diagnostic and tutorial activities. Success in Algebra I is an important milestone toward high school graduation.

The Middle School Mathematics Teacher Corps provides incentives for school divisions to hire experienced, dynamic mathematics teachers with a proven record of success for middle schools designated "at risk in mathematics."

Project Graduation works to identify and assist at-risk students and includes regional academies, online tutorials, electronic practice tests, and opportunities for students to complete their diploma requirements after the senior year.

The College and Career Readiness Initiative works to 1) ensure that college and career-ready learning standards in reading, writing and mathematics are taught in every Virginia high school classroom; and 2) strengthen students' preparation for college and the work force before leaving high school.

The Middle College program provides high school drop-outs between the ages of 18 and 24 an opportunity to attain a GED and enroll in courses that enhance basic workforce skills through engagement in project-based learning; to take remedial courses when necessary; to accumulate community college credits applicable towards a degree or certificate; and to attain an ACT Work Keys workforce readiness certificate.

Additional Information

See how Virginia students are doing by exploring the Department of Education's Virginia School Report Card database.