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Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States

Indicator 5: Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR)

The adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) provides information about the percentage of public high school students who graduate on time (i.e., 4 years after starting 9th grade for the first time) with a regular diploma.1 State education agencies calculate the ACGR using detailed data that track each student over time. As a result, the ACGR is considered the most accurate measure available for reporting on-time graduation rates (Seastrom et al. 2006b). However, the ACGR is a relatively new graduation rate measure, and in many states the student-level data required to calculate the ACGR have only become available in recent years.

ACGRs are more comparable across states than the graduation rates previously compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. However, there has been some variation in the way that individual states have implemented ACGR requirements.2 In addition, graduation requirements for obtaining a regular public high school diploma vary across states.

The ACGR is different from the averaged freshman graduation rate (AFGR), presented in indicator 6. The AFGR uses aggregated public school enrollment data and diploma counts to approximate a 4-year graduation rate. The AFGR estimate is not as accurate as the ACGR, but the AFGR can be estimated annually as far back as the 1960s. The ACGR has only been available nationally since 2010–11.

The ACGR is also different from the high school status completion rate, which is presented in indicator 4. The status completion rate measures the percentage of all civilian, noninstitutionalized 18- to 24-year-olds living in the United States who have a high school credential (i.e., a regular high school diploma or alternative credential, such as a GED) obtained from a public or private school or institution, including credentials from foreign schools or institutions. In contrast, the ACGR focuses on regular high school diploma recipients among a single cohort of U.S. public high school students. In addition, the status completion rate is not sensitive to the timing of when students obtained their credentials, while the ACGR counts as graduates only those students who obtain a regular high school diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade.


Figure 5.1. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of public high school students, by state: 2015–16

Figure 5.1. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of public high school students, by state: 2015–16

‡ Reporting standards not met. The Alabama State Department of Education indicated that their adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) data was misstated. For more information, please see the following press release issued by the state: https://www.alsde.edu/sec/comm/News%20Releases/12-08-2016%20 Graduation%20Rate%20Review.pdf.
NOTE: The adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) is the percentage of public high school freshmen who graduate with a regular diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade. Students who are entering 9th grade for the first time form a cohort for the graduating class. This cohort is “adjusted” by adding any students who subsequently transfer into the cohort and subtracting any students who subsequently transfer out, emigrate to another country, or die. The U.S. 4-year ACGR was estimated using the reported 4-year ACGR data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Bureau of Indian Education and Puerto Rico were not included in the United States 4-year ACGR estimate. The graduation rates displayed above have been rounded to whole numbers. Categorizations are based on unrounded percentages.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Consolidated State Performance Report, 2015–16. See table 5.1.


Total ACGR

Over the first 6 years the ACGR was collected (2010–11 to 2015–16), the rate increased from 79 percent to 84 percent (table 5.1). Thus, of the students who were first-time 9th-graders in 2012–13, more than 4 out of 5 had completed high school by 2015–16 (i.e., within 4 years). In 2015–16, the state-level ACGRs ranged from 69 percent in the District of Columbia to 91 percent in Iowa.3 More than two-thirds of states (36) reported graduation rates that were at least 80 percent but less than 90 percent.4


Figure 5.2. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of public high school students, by race/ethnicity: 2015–16

Figure 5.2. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of public high school students, by race/ethnicity: 2015–16

NOTE: The adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) is the percentage of public high school freshmen who graduate with a regular diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade. Students who are entering 9th grade for the first time form a cohort for the graduating class. This cohort is “adjusted” by adding any students who subsequently transfer into the cohort and subtracting any students who subsequently transfer out, emigrate to another country, or die. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Consolidated State Performance Report, 2015–16. See table 5.1.


ACGR by race/ethnicity

In 2015–16, the ACGRs for American Indian/Alaska Native (72 percent), Black (76 percent), and Hispanic (79 percent) public high school students were below the national average of 84 percent. The ACGRs for White students (88 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islander students (91 percent)5 were above the national average (figure 5.2 and table 5.1). Across states, ACGRs for White students ranged from 76 percent in New Mexico to 94 percent in New Jersey, and were higher than the overall national ACGR of 84 percent in 35 states and the District of Columbia. The rates for Black students ranged from 57 percent in Nevada to 88 percent in West Virginia. Texas and West Virginia were the only two states in which the ACGR for Black students was higher than the overall national ACGR. The ACGRs for Hispanic students ranged from 65 percent in Minnesota to 89 percent in Vermont and West Virginia, and were higher than the overall national ACGR in six states (Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia). For Asian/Pacific Islander students, ACGRs ranged from 77 percent in the District of Columbia to 95 percent or higher in Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, and West Virginia,6 and were higher than the overall national ACGR in 40 states. The ACGRs for American Indian/Alaska Native students ranged from 51 percent in South Dakota to 90 percent or higher in Delaware,7 and were higher than the overall national ACGR in nine states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas).8 (See table 5.1 for additional state-level data.)


Figure 5.3. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of Black and White public high school students, by state: 2015–16

Figure 5.3. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of Black and White public high school students, by state: 2015–16

‡ Reporting standards not met. The Alabama State Department of Education has indicated that their adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) data was misstated. For more information, please see the following press release issued by the state: https://www.alsde.edu/sec/comm/News%20Releases/12-08-2016%20Graduation%20Rate%20Review.pdf.
1 The graduation rate gaps were calculated using the most precise graduation rates available for public use, which includes some rates rounded to one decimal place and some rates rounded to whole numbers. These gaps may vary slightly from those that would be calculated using unrounded rates.
NOTE: The adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) is the percentage of public high school freshmen who graduate with a regular diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade. Students who are entering 9th grade for the first time form a cohort for the graduating class. This cohort is “adjusted” by adding any students who subsequently transfer into the cohort and subtracting any students who subsequently transfer out, emigrate to another country, or die. The U.S. 4-year ACGR was estimated using the reported 4-year ACGR data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Bureau of Indian Education and Puerto Rico were not included in the United States 4-year ACGR estimate. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Consolidated State Performance Report, 2015–16. See table 5.1


The national ACGR for White public high school students (88 percent) was 12 percentage points higher than the national ACGR for their Black peers (76 percent) in 2015–16 (figure 5.3 and table table 5.1).9 White students had higher ACGRs than Black students in every state and the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin reported the largest gaps between White and Black students. In each of these six jurisdictions, the ACGR for White students was at least 20 percentage points higher than the ACGR for Black students.


Figure 5.4. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of Hispanic and White public high school students, by state: 2015–16

Figure 5.4. Adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) of Hispanic and White public high school students, by state: 2015–16

‡ Reporting standards not met. The Alabama State Department of Education has indicated that their adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) data was misstated. For more information, please see the following press release issued by the state: https://www.alsde.edu/sec/comm/News%20 Releases/12-08-2016%20Graduation%20Rate%20Review.pdf.
1 The graduation rate gaps were calculated using the most precise graduation rates available for public use, which includes some rates rounded to one decimal place and some rates rounded to whole numbers. These gaps may vary slightly from those that would be calculated using unrounded rates.
NOTE: The adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) is the percentage of public high school freshmen who graduate with a regular diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade. Students who are entering 9th grade for the first time form a cohort for the graduating class. This cohort is “adjusted” by adding any students who subsequently transfer into the cohort and subtracting any students who subsequently transfer out, emigrate to another country, or die. The U.S. 4-year ACGR was estimated using the reported 4-year ACGR data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Bureau of Indian Education and Puerto Rico were not included in the United States 4-year ACGR estimate. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Consolidated State Performance Report, 2015–16. See table 5.1.


The national ACGR for White students (88 percent) was 9 percentage points higher than the national ACGR for Hispanic students (79 percent) in 2015–16 (figure 5.4 and table 5.1). The ACGRs for White students were higher than the ACGRs for Hispanic students in 48 states and the District of Columbia.10 The District of Columbia, Minnesota, and New York reported the largest gaps between White and Hispanic students. In each of these three jurisdictions, the ACGR for White students was at least 20 percentage points higher than the ACGR for Hispanic students. Vermont was the only state in which the ACGR for Hispanic students (89 percent) was higher than the ACGR for White students (88 percent).

ACGR by special populations

The U.S. Department of Education also collects ACGR data for economically disadvantaged students,11 students with disabilities,12 and limited-English-proficient students.13 In 2015–16, the national ACGRs for economically disadvantaged students (78 percent), limited-English-proficient students (67 percent), and students with disabilities (66 percent) were lower than the overall national ACGR of 84 percent (table 5.1).

However, the criteria under which students are counted in these subgroups vary across states. ACGRs for students with disabilities, in particular, vary according to a state’s definition of what constitutes a regular high school diploma. The types of data used to determine whether a student is economically disadvantaged or whether a student is an English language learner also vary across states. In addition, the point in time at which subgroup status is determined varies across states. States may determine subgroup status based on students’ characteristics when they enter high school or when they exit high school, or based on whether students were ever categorized in a particular subgroup during the course of their high school career. This variation is particularly important to keep in mind when interpreting the graduation rates for English language learners. Some students enter high school as English language learners but attain English proficiency before graduation.

ACGRs for economically disadvantaged students ranged from 67 percent in Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Michigan to 88 percent in South Carolina. ACGRs varied even more widely for limited-English-proficient students (ACGRs ranged from 32 percent in Arizona to 93 percent in West Virginia for these students). For students with disabilities, ACGRs ranged from 29 percent in Nevada to 84 percent in Arkansas.


1 Those students who were awarded an alternate credential, such as a GED, are not included as graduates in the ACGR calculations.
2 Examples of ways in which the calculated ACGR may vary among states include how students are identified for inclusion in certain subgroups; how the beginning of the cohort is defined; and whether summer school students are included.
3 Alabama’s data, including data by racial/ethnic groups, are not included in this indicator. The Alabama State Department of Education indicated that their adjusted cohort graduation rate data was misstated. For more information, please see the following press release issued by the state: https://www.alsde.edu/sec/comm/News%20Releases/12-08-2016%20Graduation%20Rate%20Review.pdf.
4 Based on unrounded graduation rates.
5 Reporting practices for data on Asian and Pacific Islander students varied by state. Asian/Pacific Islander data in this indicator represent either the value reported by the state for the “Asian/Pacific Islander” group or an aggregation of separate values reported by the state for “Asian” and “Pacific Islander.” “Pacific Islander” includes the “Filipino” group, which only California and Utah report separately.
6 The ACGR for Asian/Pacific Islander students in West Virginia was greater than or equal to 95 percent. To protect student privacy, the exact value is not displayed.
7 The ACGR for American Indian/Alaska Native students in Delaware was greater than or equal to 90 percent. To protect student privacy, the exact value is not displayed.
8 Discussion of ACGRs for American Indian/Alaska Native students excludes data for three states (Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia. Data for the District of Columbia, Vermont, and West Virginia were suppressed to protect student privacy, and data for Virginia were unavailable.
9 Percentage point gaps were calculated using the most precise graduation rates available for public use, which includes some rates rounded to one decimal place and some rates rounded to whole numbers. These gaps may vary slightly from those that would be calculated using unrounded rates.
10 As discussed in endnote 3, Alabama’s data, including data by racial/ethnic groups, are not included in this indicator.
11 Students who met the state criteria for classification as economically disadvantaged.
12 Students identified as children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
13 Students who met the definition of limited English proficient students as outlined in the EDFacts workbook. For more information, see https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/edfacts/eden-workbook.html.

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