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Note 6: Measures of Student Persistence and Progress (2011)

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Various measures have been developed to provide information about student persistence and progress in formal elementary and secondary education in the United States. Three measures are presented in this report: the public school averaged freshman graduation rate (indicator 19), the status dropout rate (indicator 20), and the educational attainment of 25- through 29-year-olds (indicator 24). Each of these indicators employs a different analytic method and dataset to document a unique aspect of the complex processes of high school graduation and dropping out of high school. No single data source provides comprehensive information on the graduation and dropout processes on an annual basis, but the three indicators presented here complement one another and draw upon the particular strengths of their respective data. Each indicator has limitations, however, which underscores the importance of having multiple indicators that address the question of student persistence. A brief description of the relevant methodology and data used by each indicator follows.

Public School Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate
The accurate reporting of a high school graduation rate requires student record data on student progression from grade to grade, data on graduation status, and data on students who transfer in and out of a school, district, or state during the high school years, or in other words, cohort data (National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS) 2004 Task Force, (NCES 2005-105). At the time the on-time graduation rate reporting requirement was enacted in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, few states had data collection systems adequate to support the calculation of an accurate on-time graduation rate. Recognizing the need for an interim measure to use while individual states develop student record systems, the leadership in the Department of Education asked NCES to evaluate the array of potential graduation indicators. In response NCES issued a two-volume report that examined the existing measures of high school completion and the newly proposed proxy measures. The analysis provided the technical basis for the Department's selection of an interim graduation rate based on estimating the percentage of an incoming freshman class that graduates 4 years later (NCES 2006-604 and 2006-605). The averaged freshman graduation rate (AFGR) appeared in the NCES analysis as the only measure that consistently figured among the best performing indicators.

Indicator 19 examines the percentage of public high school students who graduate on time by using the AFGR. The AFGR is a measure of the percentage of the incoming freshman class that graduates 4 years later. The AFGR is the number of graduates with a regular diploma divided by the estimated count of incoming freshmen 4 years earlier, as reported through the NCES Common Core of Data (CCD), the survey system based on state education departments' annual administrative records. (For more information on the CCD, see supplemental note 3.) The estimated count of incoming freshmen is the sum of the number of 8th-graders 5 years earlier, the number of 9th-graders 4 years earlier (when current-year seniors were freshmen), and the number of l0th-graders 3 years earlier, divided by 3. The intent of this averaging is to account for the high rate of grade retention in the freshman year, which adds 9th-grade repeaters from the previous year to the number of students in the incoming freshman class each year. Ungraded students are allocated to individual grades proportional to each state's enrollment in those grades. An advantage of using CCD data to calculate the AFGR is that the data are available on an annual basis by state; however, the demographic details available from the survey are limited.

Status Dropout Rate
Indicator 20 reports status dropout rates by race/ethnicity and nativity status. Status dropout rates measure the extent of the dropout problem for a population. As such, these rates can be used to gauge the need for further education and training within that population. Indicator 20 uses data from the American Community Survey (ACS) and the October Current Population Survey (CPS) to estimate the percentage of the population ages 16 through 24 who are not in high school and have not earned a high school credential (either a diploma or an equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate), irrespective of when they dropped out. The 2009 ACS allows for more detailed comparisons of status dropout rates by race/ethnicity, nativity, and sex, and, unlike the CPS, includes institutionalized persons, incarcerated persons, and active duty military personnel living in barracks in the United States. The CPS provides several decades of historical trends on status dropouts that are not available from the ACS. The disadvantage of using CPS data to compute status dropout rates for the civilian, noninstitutionalized population is that military personnel and incarcerated or institutionalized persons are excluded. A disadvantage of both the CPS and ACS is that the datasets include as dropouts individuals who never attended U.S. schools, including immigrants who did not complete the equivalent of a high school education in their home country. Estimates of status dropout rates from the ACS and CPS are not directly comparable due to methodological differences, such as differing sampling frames, modes of administration, and question wording. For more information on the CPS, see supplemental note 2, and for more information on the ACS, see supplemental note 3.

Educational Attainment of 25- to 29-Year-Olds
Indicator 24 examines the educational attainment of adults who are just past the age by which most people are traditionally expected to have completed their postsecondary education. This indicator uses March CPS data to estimate the percentage of civilian, noninstitutionalized people ages 25 through 29 who have achieved the following levels of educational attainment: high school diploma or equivalent (including a credential such as a GED), some college, bachelor's degree, or master's or other advanced degree. Estimates of educational attainment represent the percentage of adults who completed at least the cited credential. Attainment estimates do not differentiate between those who graduated from public schools, those who graduated from private schools, and those who earned a GED. These estimates also include individuals who never attended high school in the United States but attained a high school diploma or its equivalent in another country. An advantage of using CPS data to compute educational attainment estimates is that estimates can be computed on an annual basis for various demographic subgroups of adults. A disadvantage of using CPS data to compute the educational attainment rate is that these data exclude all military personnel living in barracks and incarcerated or institutionalized persons. For more information on the CPS, see supplemental note 2.