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Signs of Progress and Concern in “Building a Grad Nation”

February 28, 2013 by Kerri L. Briggs

Earlier this week at the Grad Nation Summit in Washington D.C., the America’s Promise Alliance released its 4th annual report entitled "Building a Grad Nation". In the Grad Nation report, there was some encouraging and challenging data around graduation rates to consider. First, the good news – the rate of students graduating from high school has increased from 71.7% (2001) to 78.2% (2010). And, this is based on a solid method of calculating how many students graduate from high school with a diploma (the average freshman graduation rate). Further there were two states who have already achieved the America’s Promise goal of 90% graduation – Wisconsin and Vermont – and many more (18 to be exact) who are on pace to reach this goal if they continue positive trends from the past few years. The number of “dropout factories” (high schools with a less than 60% graduation rate) have also declined from 2,007 schools in 2002 to 1,424 in 2011 - a reduction of more than 25%. Given how important a high school diploma is for the individual and for society, these are good reports.


There was a number of challenging data points as well. Those are all detailed in the report, but one set of data stood out to me – the number of students with disabilities who are not graduating from high school. There are 30 states that have a graduation rate of 66% or less for students with disabilities, with 25 states posting graduation rates below 60%. The report’s authors suggested the reason behind these lower numbers were the number of states who “graduate” students with disabilities with something less than a meaningful diploma. This group of students is not an insignificant number among our students – they are 13% of the overall population, with almost 5% of students having a learning disability. To really improve the overall graduation rate – we must begin to think about providing the appropriate learning opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities.


The Grad Nation Summit had a diverse line-up of individuals all describing their efforts to ensure that more students graduate from high school. The conversations included the importance of early childhood education, social and emotional supports, and the role of business in encouraging students to complete high school ready for college or careers. Mrs. Laura Bush described the Bush Institute’s Middle School Matters work and announced two new components of this work: the Summer Institute and a Summit Series devoted to early warning indicator and intervention systems. As someone who had a view from the audience while she spoke, I can tell you that her remarks inspired all of us. All these efforts are surely contributing to the increased graduation rates among our youth, but in all the progress, let’s not forget there is always room for improvement.

This post was written by Dr. Kerri L. Briggs, Director of Education Reform