Dropout Rates in the United States: 2001

Christopher D. Chapman




Data Considerations

As with all data collections, those used in this report are useful for calculating some estimates but are poorly suited for calculating other types of estimates. For example, the Current Population Survey data are well suited for studying the civilian, noninstitutionalized population residing in the United States. They are not designed to provide information about military personnel or individuals residing in group quarters such as prison inmates. In addition, data from the Common Core of Data are well suited for studying the public school student population in a given year. They are not well suited for studying private school students, and because of missing data from some states, are not well suited for studying high school dropouts at the national level.

Legislation enacted as part of the No Child Left Behind Act has increased interest in being able to study yearly change in high school graduation rates in general, and in on-time public high school graduation rates more specifically. Graduation rates measure the percent of a population holding a regular high school diploma. Measuring such rates requires an analytic ability to separate regular diploma holders from GED recipients and individuals who earn other alternative credentials, and to have a clearly defined population that should be graduates. Existing CPS and CCD data that might be used to develop such rates on an annual basis have important limitations on one or both of these prerequisites. For example, CPS estimates of GED recipients appear to be unreliable, and it is not clear which reference population to use to determine who should be graduates for CCD based calculations. Such limitations become even more significant for developing on-time graduation rates. NCES is currently working with experts in the field of high school outcomes research to develop graduation rate statistics that can be produced on an annual basis to help address this research need. While there is ongoing research into different measurement approaches, this report does not include statistics on either concept. For additional technical information about the data and rates presented in this report, please see appendix C.