NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 3, 2008

For years, New Mexico has used a flawed system to track high school dropouts.  The upside is that this system gives the state a healthy "official" graduation rate of 85 percent.  The downside is that the true graduation rate is about 54 percent, the second lowest in the United States, says USA Today.

Scores of other states also have faulty methods for tracking dropout rates, which allow those states to ignore or minimize the problem, says USA Today:

  • Across the country, according to the non-profit Editorial Projects in Education, just 71 percent of high school students earn diplomas.
  • The United States is, in fact, the only industrialized country where children are less likely to earn high school diplomas than their parents.

That scandal is why Education Secretary Margaret Spellings last week mandated uniform systems for tracking dropouts, says USA Today:

  • Currently, several states simply count how many students enter 12th grade and compare that number with the graduating class, hence, New Mexico's lofty 85 percent graduation rate.
  • The problem is, this system misses the many dropouts who never make it to senior year.

Under the new rules:

  • Schools must track students for the four years after they enter high school.
  • Districts must publish the graduation rates for racial, ethnic and socioeconomic subgroups.
  • No longer will schools be able to hide high dropout rates for Hispanic males, for example, behind "average" scores for the entire school.

Source: Editorial, "Phony graduation rates; Overdue new rules mandate better tracking of high school dropouts," USA Today, November 3, 2008.


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