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Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008

NCES 2011-012
December 2010

Defining and Calculating Event Dropout Rates Using the CCD

The definition of “event dropout rates” that was agreed upon by NCES and the states was the following:

The denominator of the rate is the current October 1st membership count for the state for the grades for which the dropout rate is being calculated. For example, the dropout rate for grades 9–12 would use a denominator that equals the October 1st enrollment count for grades 9–12.2

The numerator (dropouts) is all individuals who

  • were enrolled in school at some time during the previous school year;
  • were not enrolled at the beginning of the current school year;
  • have not graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved education program; and
  • do not meet any of the following exclusionary conditions: transferred to another public school district, private school, or state- or district-approved education program; temporary absence due to suspension or school-approved education program; or death.

For the purpose of this definition, the following statements apply:

  • The school year is the 12-month period of time from the first day of school (operationally set as October 1), with dropouts from the previous summer reported for the year and grade in which they fail to enroll. Some states report using an alternative 12-month period from one July to the next, but the different periodicity does not affect the comparability of the estimates (Winglee et al. 2000);
  • Individuals who are not accounted for on October 1 are considered dropouts; and
  • A high school completer is an individual who has graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved education program upon receipt of formal recognition from school authorities. A state- or district-approved education program may consist of special education and district- or state-sponsored General Educational Development (GED) preparation.


2 Ungraded students are prorated across grades in the denominator proportional to known graded enrollment rates, and ungraded dropouts are included in the numerator.