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 new on-time cohort graduation data. Compared to previous school years, graduation rates continued to improve for nearly all of Virginia's regions in 2011-2012, with the statewide average increasing from 82.1 percent in 2007-08 to 88.0 percent in 2011-12. The Northern (90.7%) and Valley (88.6%) regions have rates that exceed the statewide average. And although below the state average, the remaining regions all saw improvement in their graduation rates: Central (87.8%), Southwest (87.2%), Eastern (86.7% -- an improvement of over 4 percentage points), West Central (86.4%), Hampton Roads (85.9%), and Southside (85.6%).
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) uses a different formula to estimate graduation rates among the states. (See Data Definitions and Sources.) According to the NCES, Virginia's high school graduation rate in 2009 (the most current year available) was 78.4 percent, the 20th highest in the country. Virginia's graduation rate has consistently been above the national average, which in 2009 was 75.5 percent. Virginia had a higher graduation rate than Tennessee (77.4%) and North Carolina (75.1%), but a lower rate than Maryland (80.1%). The leading state, Wisconsin, had a 90.7 percent graduation rate in 2009.
What Influences High School Graduation Rates?
Socio-economic factors play a role in graduation and dropout rates. In a 2006 report, Civic Enterprises studied the national trend in falling graduation rates and higher dropout rates. They 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 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 U.S. Department of Education. As of 2008 in Virginia, a new, on-time high school graduation rate is being used, which is calculated as a percentage of the corresponding cohort of students entering the freshman class four years prior. This data now accounts for students who moved and those who were held back or promoted. The graduation rates track individual students from year to year using the Commonwealth's longitudinal student data system.
School Graduation Rates by State
Data Source: National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. 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)
Civic Enterprises, "The Silent Epidemic, Perspectives of High School Dropouts," March 2006. www.civicenterprises.net/pdfs/ thesilentepidemic3-06.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.
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.