Public High School Dropouts and Completers from the Common Core of Data: School Years 1998-99 and 1999-2000

Lee Hoffman
National Center for Education Statistics

Two of the most important indicators of the educational system's success are the rates that young people complete and drop out of school each year. The Common Core of Data (CCD) survey system of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) annually collects information about public school dropouts and completers. This report presents the number and percentage of students dropping out and completing public school (among states that reported dropouts) for school years 1998-99 and 1999-2000.


The CCD consists of six surveys that are completed each year by state education agencies (SEAs). Three of these surveys provide basic statistical information about public elementary/secondary institutions, students, and staff. Although all information is reported directly from SEAs, the surveys include data about individual states, local education agencies, and schools. The numbers of students who complete high school with a regular diploma or some alternative credential have been reported at the state and local education agency levels since the 1987-88 CCD collection. A dropout statistic was added to the Local Education Agency (School District) Universe beginning with the 1992-93 collection (reporting 1991-92 dropouts).

Limitations in This Report

The high school 4-year completion rate presented here differs in its calculation from other published rates and readers should be alert to this when making comparisons with other studies. The inclusion of both regular and other high school completions, and the exclusion of General Education Development (GED) test recipients, may also lead to differences with other reports (see the "High School Completers" section for a further description).

Also, state and local policies and data collection administration may have profound effects on the count of dropouts and completers reported by a state. Dropout and completion data collected by the CCD are reported from the administrative records of SEAs. Some states collect their data through student-level records systems while others collect aggregate data from schools and districts. Although state CCD Coordinators verify each year that they have followed the CCD dropout definition, states vary in their ability to track students who move in and out of districts, and it is probable that some students have been misclassified.

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High School Dropouts

Determining Dropout Status

The CCD definition determines whether an individual is a dropout by his or her enrollment status at the beginning of the school year (the same day reflected in the enrollment count). Beginning in 1990, NCES defined a dropout as an individual who

  1. was enrolled in school at some time during the previous school year (e.g., 1998-99); and
  2. was not enrolled at the beginning of the current school year (e.g., 1999-2000); and
  3. has not graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved educational program; and
  4. does not meet any of the following exclusionary conditions:
    1. transfer to another public school district, private school, or state- or district-approved educational program (including correctional or health facility programs);
    2. temporary absence due to suspension or school-excused illness; or
    3. death.
Individuals who complete 1 year of school but fail to enroll at the beginning of the subsequent year ("summer dropouts") are counted as dropouts from the school year and grade in which they fail to enroll. Those who leave secondary education but are enrolled in an adult education program at the beginning of the school year are considered dropouts. However, note that dropout status is determined by a student's status on October 1. Students who receive their GED certificate by October 1 are not counted as dropouts if the state or district recognizes this as an approved program. Although a student whose whereabouts is unknown is considered a dropout, states are not required to count students who leave the United States as dropouts even if there is no information about such students' subsequent enrollment status. A student can be counted as a dropout only once for a single school year but can, if he or she repeatedly drops out and re-enrolls, appear as a dropout in more than 1 year.

Dropout Rate

This is an annual event dropout rate: the number of dropouts for a school year divided by the number of students enrolled at the beginning of that school year. For example, to compute the 9th- through 12th-grade dropout rate, the calculation is

Number of 9th- through 12th-grade dropouts

October 1st 9th- through 12th-grade enrollment count

Dropout Results

In the 1999-2000 school year, 37 states (including the District of Columbia), and in the 1998-99 school year, 38 states (including the District of Columbia), reported dropouts using the CCD definition. The change in the number of states between the two collection periods occurred because Arizona and Idaho did not report dropouts using the CCD definition in 1999-2000, while Texas did report them using the CCD definition in 1999-2000 but not in 1998-99. Table 1 presents data on 1999-2000 and 1998-99 dropouts. In the 1999-2000 school year, the 9th- through 12th-grade dropout rate in the reporting states ranged from 2.5 percent in Iowa to 9.2 percent in Louisiana. In the 1998-99 school year, the dropout rate ranged from 2.4 percent in North Dakota to 10.0 percent in Louisiana.

The majority of reporting states in 1999-2000 (24 of the 37) had dropout rates ranging from 4.0 to 6.0 percent. Eight states had a dropout rate lower than 4.0 in the 1999-2000 school year: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In 1998-99, the number of states with dropout rates ranging from 4.0 to 6.0 was smaller, only 20 out of the 38. Nine states had a dropout rate lower than 4.0 in the 1998-99 school year: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Because of the differing sizes of states, the numbers of dropouts varied greatly among reporting states. In the 1999-2000 school year, while Texas had the greatest number of dropouts (54,390) among reporting states, it did not have the highest dropout rate. On the other hand, North Dakota had the smallest number of dropouts (1,003) and also had the third lowest dropout rate (2.7 percent) of reporting states.

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High School Completers

Diploma recipients

These are individuals who are awarded a high school diploma or a diploma in a given year that recognizes some higher level of academic achievement. They can be thought of as students who meet or exceed the coursework and performance standards for high school completion established by the state or other relevant authorities.

Other high school completers

These individuals receive a certificate of attendance or some other credential in lieu of a diploma. Students awarded this credential typically meet requirements that differ from those for a high school diploma. Some states do not issue an "other high school completion" type of certificate, but award all students who complete school a diploma regardless of what academic requirements the students have met. In order to make data as comparable as possible across states, this report includes both regular and other diploma recipients in its high school 4-year completion rate.

Exclusion of high school equivalency recipients

High school equivalencies are awarded a credential certifying that they have met state or district requirements for high school completion by passing an examination or completing some other performance requirement. The equivalency certificate is usually awarded on the basis of the GED test. The CCD asks states to report high school equivalency recipients who are in roughly the same cohort as the regular graduating class, that is, 19 years of age or younger. Although students who receive their GED from a state- or district-recognized program by October 1 are not counted as dropouts in the dropout rate calculation, there are two reasons that GED counts are not included in the count of high school completers (i.e., they are counted as dropouts) in the 4-year completion rate. First, the count of high school equivalencies is only reported on the CCD's state collection and the other data collected and used in the four-year completion rate are at the school district level. Second, not all states report the total number of GED recipients.

High School 4-Year Completion Rate

Put simply, this rate asks, "of those students who have left school, what proportion have done so as completers?" The rate incorporates 4 years' worth of data and thus, is an estimated cohort rate. It is calculated by dividing the number of high school completers by the sum of dropouts for grades 9 through 12, respectively, in consecutive years, plus the number of completers. If a hypothetical graduating class began as 9th-graders in Year 1, this 4-year completion rate would look like:

High School Completers Year 4

Dropouts (Grade 9 Year 1 + Grade 10 Year 2 + Grade 11 Year 3 + Grade 12 Year 4)
+ High School Completers Year 4

To get a more detailed description of the development of both rates as well as the limitations of the dropout and completion rates, see Public High School Dropouts and Completers From the Common Core of Data: School Years 1991-92 through 1997-98 (NCES 2002317).

High School Completer Results

As with states' numbers of high school dropouts, states' numbers of high school completers varied widely, partially because of the sizes of states' public school populations. As might be expected, in 1999-2000, the state with the largest public school population, California, had the most high school completers (309,866), and the District of Columbia, with the smallest public school population, had the fewest high school completers (2,916) (table 2). Seven states had more than 100,000 high school completers: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

In the 1999-2000 school year, the 4 years of dropout data needed to calculate a high school 4-year completion rate were available for 33 states. The high school 4-year completion rates ranged from a high of 89.3 in Wisconsin to a low of 62.6 in Louisiana for those states with data. (This rate includes other high school completers but does not reflect those receiving a GED-based equivalency credential.) In 1999-2000, eight of the reporting states had a 4-year completion rate above 85 percent: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Four states had 4-year completion rates below 75 percent: Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico.

The majority of high school completion credentials are in the form of a diploma. There were 32 reporting states with data available to calculate a 1999-2000 high school 4-year completion rate that either reported other high school completer data (i.e., certificates of completion) or did not award any type of other high school completer credentials. Other high school completers made up only 1.5 percent of all high school completers in these 32 reporting states (derived from table 2). Twenty-two of these states awarded other high school completion credentials (the other 10 states did not award these credentials) and had data necessary to calculate a 1999-2000 4-year completion rate for other high school completers (e.g., recipients of certificates of completion). In 5 of these 22 states - Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee - the percent of all students who completed by means of another high school completion credential was 5 percent or more.

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