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U.S. High School Graduation Rate Inches Higher

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More students in the United States are graduating from high school, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Education.

“America’s students have achieved another record-setting milestone,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a prepared statement. “This is a vital step toward readiness for success in college and careers for every student in this country, and these improvements are thanks to the hard work of teachers, principals, students and families.”

According to the Education Department, 81 percent of U.S. students graduated from high school in 2013, which is the highest figure the nation has seen in five years. Comparing graduation rates to years before 2010 is tricky because of new reporting standards the Education Department called on states to adopt.

Since 2011, several states have made major strides in increasing the number of ninth graders who complete high school in four years. Alabama’s rate jumped from 72 percent to 80 percent. Nevada climbed nine points, from 62 percent to 71 percent. The national average notched up two percentage points between 2011 and 2013.

According to the Education Department, The District of Columbia and Oregon have the lowest high school graduation rates at 62 percent and 69 percent, respectively. A 2014 series of articles published by The Oregonian found chronic student absenteeism at many schools in the state. Advocacy organizations like Attendance Works argue students who miss school regularly are less likely to graduate from high school on time.

“When schools are held accountable and students are given support to help them stay in school and on track, real progress is possible,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, according to a press release circulated by the Education Department. The Alliance aims to reach a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020. “Because of increases over the past decade or so, nearly two million additional young people have high school diplomas, giving them a chance at a more promising future,” Gomperts added.

Prior to 2010 states largely used their own formulas for calculating their high school graduation rates. In 2012, for example, Clayton County in Georgia reported that their high school graduation rate dropped from 80 percent to just under 52 percent after officials in Atlanta adopted the new formula.

Several states have incomplete data because they’ve yet to fully adopt the new graduation rate formula. Idaho has no data shown between 2011 and 2013.

EWA has updated its interactive tool on state fiscal data to include the graduation rates for the three most recent academic years: 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. Explore the map for a snapshot of your state’s per-pupil spending and graduation rate, among other things, or visit the spreadsheet where you can sort the data.