Alabama's high school graduation rates continue to increase

MONTGOMERY, AL - Despite the fact that Alabama is seeing a continual trend of increasing graduation rates and the lowest dropout rate on record, State Department of Education (SDE) officials warn Alabama has more work to do.

Recently released numbers show that in 2007 67% of Alabama high school students graduate with a standard diploma on time – in four years. This number is the most recently available and is in accordance with the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) formula used by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). According to a different formula approved by the United States Department of Education and used by the SDE for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reporting purposes, Alabama's graduation rate is approximately 83% in the same year.

In both instances, the formulas show graduation rates are improving. The AFGR shows graduation rates at 67%, up from 62% in 2002, and the formula used for AYP purposes shows graduation rates at 83%, up from 82% when first reported in 2005.

In 2005, governors of all 50 states signed the National Governor's Association (NGA) Graduation Counts Compact to implement a common formula for calculating their state's high school graduation rate. All states are on track to begin publicly reporting their data using the common formula in 2012. In response to the NGA compact and new regulations for NCLB, the SDE is releasing its first 4-year cohort graduation rate for the graduating class of 2009.

This number represents the graduation rate for the first-time 9th graders of 2005-2006 with adjustments made for transfers in and out. The 4-year cohort graduation rate is 65.06%. In contrast, the AYP graduation rate for 2009 is 86.72%. Over the next few years, Alabama will be transitioning from use of the current AYP formula to the new 4-year cohort graduation rate for AYP purposes and for reporting purposes.

There are many differences in the data used to determine the various graduation rates. For example, the AFGR uses enrollment from grades 8, 9, and 10; the NGA 4-year cohort graduation rate follows a cohort of students from the 9th grade to the 12th grade; the AYP graduation rate takes a graduating class and looks backward to include dropouts.

Another difference, among others, is the AYP formula does not require graduation in the standard number of years whereas the 4-year cohort graduation rate does.

"It doesn't matter which formula you choose to use, the fact of the matter is too few students are graduating from high school on time, and we owe it to the future of this state to find effective ways of keeping our students in school," State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said. "This is not about appearance or public relations. This is a real issue that's affecting our state. Yes, we've made progress, but we can't rest on our laurels. One student not graduating on time is one too many."

Dr. Tommy Bice, Deputy State Superintendent of Education, said the increases in graduation rates realized over the past decade were before the recent implementation of the First Choice initiative. First Choice was designed to, among other things, improve Alabama's high school graduation rate and decrease the number of high school dropouts by providing effective intervention through Graduation Coaches and Credit Recovery to remove barriers between students and high school graduation.

"This isn't an Alabama issue, it is a national issue. Across America, not enough students are graduating from high school on time. We are aggressively looking at what needs to be done with transparency and with practical yet innovative means of helping more students stay in school and graduate with their class," Bice said. "We are moving in the right direction. The trend lines show we have been graduating more students and having fewer drop out over the past decade. Not only do we want to sustain the current increase in graduates, but do so with programs that help guide students through their high school years and into college or career options with the most efficient use of time and ability."

Graduation rate data is presented one year in arrears. First Choice was implemented in the 2008-09 school year, so the graduating class of 2012, to be reported in 2013, would be the first to demonstrate any measurable differences.