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This National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) First Look report introduces new data for two separate measures of 4-year on-time graduation rates as well as event dropout rates for school year (SY) 2010–11 and SY 2011–12. Specifically this report provides the following:

  • Four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR)1 data reported by state or jurisdiction and, for the first time, a national estimated 4-year cohort graduation rate;

  • Averaged freshman graduation rate (AFGR) data by state or jurisdiction and a national estimated AFGR; and

  • High school event dropout rate data by state or jurisdiction and a national estimated event dropout rate.
Both the AFGR and ACGR are 4-year on-time graduation rates that provide measures of the percent of students that successfully complete high school in 4 years with a regular high school diploma.2 Event dropout rates provide a measure of the percentage of students who drop out in a single year. The tables in this report present descriptive information for the United States and for individual states and jurisdictions. The findings chosen for this report provide only a few examples of how the graduation and dropout data may be used. Compared to other measures of graduation rates, the ACGR is considered the most accurate measure available for reporting on-time graduation rates (Seastrom et al. 2006b). A 4-year ACGR is defined as the number of students who graduate in 4 years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for that graduating class. The term “adjusted cohort” means the students who enter grade 9 plus any students who transfer into the cohort in grades 9–12 minus any students who are removed from the cohort because they transferred out, moved out of the country, or were deceased (34 C.F.R. § 200.19). For a more detailed discussion of how ACGR is calculated for a specific school year, see appendix B.

The AFGR is a proxy indicator for a cohort rate such as ACGR that utilizes aggregated counts of students by grade and the overall diploma count, as opposed to individual student-level data, to estimate an on-time graduation rate. The AFGR estimate is not as accurate as the ACGR; however, the AFGR can be estimated annually as far back as the 1960s using comparable aggregate data.
Both graduation rates represent the percentage of students who successfully complete high school in 4 years with a regular high school diploma. They do not represent the percentage of all of students who earn a high school credential. This distinction is important because a number of student groups are 1) not considered dropouts and 2) not considered on-time completers. For example

  • Some students may have been held back one or more grades in high school but do, in the end, successfully receive a regular high school diploma.

  • Many students complete high school with an alternative credential. Sometimes a student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) may receive alternative credentials indicating the completion of their IEP and high school experience. Other students may leave high school having successfully achieved a high school equivalency diploma or other alternative credential.

  • Other students, who are dually enrolled in both high school and postsecondary school, take more than 4 years to graduate due to the increased requirements. These students often receive both a regular high school diploma and an associate’s degree upon completion.

Because the definition of on-time graduation considered in this report is based on a 4-year high school experience resulting in the receipt of a regular high school diploma, the students described in the preceding bullets, while counted within the cohort or enrollment base, are neither dropouts, nor on-time completers.

The 4-year on-time graduation rates presented in this report should not be confused with related rates intended to study different topics. For example, NCES also publishes completion rates calculated from household survey data collected by the Census Bureau. Completion rates indicate the percentage of the population, typically in a specified age range, holding high school credentials in general. They are not sensitive to how long a person might have taken to earn the credential, or to where the credential was earned. Some completion rates also include those earning alternative credentials that represent high school equivalency. Many students counted as “completers” for the calculation of a completion rate might not qualify as on-time graduates in the ACGR or AFGR. Additionally, the inverse of the ACGR or AFGR should not be confused with a dropout rate. Counts of students who have not graduated on time with a regular high school diploma do include dropouts, but also include those who will earn a regular diploma in more than 4 years and those who have or will earn alternative credentials. It is for this reason that NCES also calculates and reports on measures in addition to high school completion, such as the event dropout rate included in this report.

The high school event dropout rate indicates the proportion of students who were enrolled at some time during the school year and were expected to be enrolled in grades 9–12 in the following school year but were not enrolled by October 1 of the following school year. Students who have graduated, transferred to another school, died, moved to another country, or who are out of school due to illness are not considered dropouts. The event dropout rate is not comparable to other dropout rates released by the Department or elsewhere. Status dropout rates, for example, measure the percentage of a population that did not complete high school (e.g., some percentage of young adults aged 18–24 dropped out of high school).

The calculated totals in this report, identified as “United States” totals in tabulations and “national” estimates in text, include data for only the 50 states and the District of Columbia and exclude data for other jurisdictions.

This First Look provides users with an opportunity to access SY 2010–11 provisional data that have been fully reviewed and edited, and SY 2011–12 preliminary data that have been subjected to a limited data review and editing.3 Neither set of data have been available publicly prior to the release of this report. The data used in this report were collected as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s EDFacts Initiative. NCES uses these data to report, analyze, and disseminate statistical data that describe public elementary/secondary education. SEAs submit aggregate counts of students used to calculate the dropout and graduation rates or actual rates (in the case of reporting the ACGR). The rates included in this report have been reported in whole number percentages or percentage point ranges to prevent any potential disclosure of individual student data.

More detailed explanations of the definitions and methodology used to calculate these rates can be found in Appendix A: Collection Methodology and Sources of Error and Appendix B: Detailed Methodology for Calculation of Four-Year On-Time Graduation Rates and Event Dropout Rates.


1 The ACGR is referred to in regulations, which amended 34 C.F.R. §200.19 as the Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.
2 Under 34 C.F.R. §200.19(b)(1)(iv), a "regular high school diploma" means the standard high school diploma awarded to students in a state that is fully aligned with the state's academic content standards and does not include a high school equivalency credential, certificate of attendance, or any alternative award. The term "regular high school diploma" also includes a "higher diploma" that is awarded to students who complete requirements above and beyond what is required for a regular diploma.
3 NCES has begun implementing a data release methodology based upon three stages of data review: Preliminary, Provisional, and Final. Preliminary release data may only include data initially reported by a state education agency (SEA), which has undergone cursory review and minimal editing. Preliminary data may be less complete due to late reporting or data quality concerns. Provisional release data have undergone a complete review and been subjected to NCES data quality control procedures. The preliminary SY 2011–12 data in this report will undergo further review and a revised provisional file will be released later in 2014. Additionally, NCES expects to release final SY 2010–11 data that include any final updates reported by SEAs prior to the closing of the SY 2010–11 data collection.