HD81 - The High School Graduation Rate Formula

Executive Summary:
As Virginia has moved forward with its accountability program there has been increased public interest in accuracy of graduation rates. These rates have long been indicators of school performance, but have been heavily critiqued for their unreliability. Current graduation rate formulas used in Virginia are research estimates of the percentage of students that graduate. They tend to be unreliable when disaggregated to levels below the state and fail to reflect real-life events such as student mobility, declining school populations, and ninth-grade retention. Implementation of the Educational Information Management System (EIMS) (which assigns students with unique state test identifiers that can be used to follow academic progress over time), has provided an opportunity to accurately link freshman records four years later to determine their graduation or completion status.

House Bill 19 (2006) amended section § 22.1-253, 13:4 of the Code of Virginia and requires the State Board of Education to assure uniform assessment of high school graduation rates by collecting, analyzing and reporting high school graduation and dropout data using a formula prescribed by the Board. The Board’s Committee on Graduation and Dropouts studied seven widely-discussed graduation rate formulas and evaluated the strengths and weakness of each. These characteristics included:

• recognition of the five Virginia diplomas
• recognition of retention practices
• allowing for students who take longer than four years to graduate
• consideration of student mobility and declining student populations, and
• accuracy of the rate when disaggregated to the division, school, and subgroup level.

The formulas studied are listed below:
• The NGA “on-time” Graduation Rate
• The Virginia No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Graduation Rate
• The Virginia Unadjusted Graduation Rate
• The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate
• The Warren Estimated Completion Rate
• The Green Adjusted Completion Rate
• The Urban Institute Cumulative Promotion Index

Of the seven rates studied, six were estimates, and one, the NGA rate, was an actual measure based on individual student progress over time.

The NGA formula addresses several weaknesses found in the six estimated rates. It recognizes the five Virginia diplomas. Advanced, Standard, Modified Standard, Special, and General Achievement diplomas are included. General Educational Development (GED) diplomas and certificates of program completion are not included. It excludes students who have been retained in the ninth grade; allows Special Education students and students with Limited English proficiency more time to graduate; does not penalize schools with declining enrollments; and takes student mobility into consideration by accounting for students that transfer in and out of schools, the division, and the state.

The Committee on Graduation and Dropouts recommended and the full Board of Education adopted the NGA On-Time Graduation Rate formula.

The NGA On-Time Graduation Rate formula {OGy/[(My-4,fg9)+(TI)-(TO)]} is calculated by dividing the number of on-time graduates in a given year (OGy) by the number of first-time entering ninth graders four years earlier (My-4,fg9) plus the number of transfers in (TI) minus the number of transfers out (TO).

In the fall of 2008, the records of first time freshmen (the first group of students assigned state testing identifiers) in 2004-2005 can be linked to their records four years later to determine their graduation or completion status. Therefore, the NGA On-Time High School Graduation rate will be reported by Virginia for the first time in the fall of 2008 for students who entered the ninth grade four years earlier.