High School Graduation Rates in US Reach Record High

Graduation rates in all student groups have shown significant improvement since the 2010-2011 school year. 

President Barack Obama speaks during an event at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17, 2016.
President Barack Obama speaks during an event at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17, 2016. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Federal data released Monday shows that the nation’s high school graduation rate rose again during the 2014-2015 school year, reaching a record high as more than 83 percent of students earned their diplomas on time.

The Washington Post reports that gains were made in every student group, including low-income, black, white, Asian, Hispanic and Native American students, as well as students with disabilities and those for whom English is a second language. States first adopted a uniform method of reporting graduation rates with the 2010-2011 school year, and the broad improvement trend has continued since then.

Although gaps between student groups continued to close, they remain large. A fact sheet released by the White House that compares graduation rates among each group since the 2010-2011 school year shows that 90.2 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students graduated on time, compared with 87.6 percent of white students, 77.8 percent of Hispanic students, 74.6 percent of black students and 71.6 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students.

Low-income students achieved a 76.1 percent on-time graduation rate. While the fact sheet shows that students with disabilities and ESL learners have achieved significant gains in graduation rates, they remain far below average.

The White House released the data the same day that President Barack Obama gave a speech at Washington, D.C.’s Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, a selective-admissions school that serves low-income students and boasts a 100 percent graduation rate. Obama praised the work of the teachers and students at Banneker and called it “an example of a school doing things the right way.”

“We have made a lot of progress in terms of making sure that young people across the country get the kind of great education that you’re getting here at Banneker,” Obama said.

While graduation rates are an important measure of school success and academic progress, experts say not to put too much stock in them because of widely varied graduation requirements from state to state.

Andre Perry, former CEO of the Capital One-University of New Orleans Charter Network, says that without taking into consideration pushout of our most marginalized students—and whether graduation rates lead to positive outcomes for those students—the numbers don’t tell the full story.

“Pushout is a factor that is hard to account for, but we know it exists,” said Perry to The Root. “States were perversely incentivized to reduce rigor, create ‘career tracks,’ and online programs to graduate more students. This isn’t real growth.”

“Graduation rates are the easiest to make grow without ensuring it pays long-term dividends,” Perry added. “Yes, we are improving, but it’s partially artificially grown.”

The Washington Post reports that Education Secretary John B. King Jr. acknowledged that there is a disconnect.

“Certainly we share the concern that we have more work to do to ensure that every student is ready for what’s next,” King said. But “overall, the evidence is clear that students who have a high school diploma do better in the 21st-century economy than students who don’t. So having a higher graduation rate is meaningful progress.”

Read more at the Washington Post and the White House.