Nevada among worst in high school graduation rates

WASHINGTON — U.S. public high schools have reached a milestone, an 80 percent graduation rate. Yet that still means 1 of every 5 students walks away without a diploma, and it’s even worse in Nevada.

Citing the progress, researchers are projecting a 90 percent national graduation rate by 2020.

Their report, based on 2012 Education Department statistics, was to be shown today at the Building a GradNation Summit in Washington, D.C.

The growth has been spurred by such factors as a greater awareness of the dropout problem and efforts by districts, states and the federal government to include graduation rates in accountability measures. Among the initiatives are closing “dropout factory” schools.

Also, schools are taking aggressive action, such as hiring intervention specialists who work with students one on one to keep teenagers in class, researchers said.

Growth in rates among black and Hispanic students helped fuel the gains. Most of the growth has occurred since 2006, after decades of stagnation.

“At a moment when everything seems so broken and seems so unfixable … this story tells you something completely different,” said John Gomperts, president of America’s Promise Alliance, which was founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and helped produce the report.

The rate of 80 percent is based on federal statistics primarily using a calculation by which the number of graduates in a given year is divided by the number of students who enrolled four years earlier. Adjustments are made for transfer students.

In 2008, the Bush administration ordered all states to begin using this method. States previously used a wide variety of ways to calculate high school graduation rates.

Iowa, Vermont, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Texas ranked at the top with rates as high as 89 percent. The bottom performers were Alaska, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon and Nevada.

In Nevada, the ripples of the new graduation rate formula and how the state Department of Education chose to handle it weren’t evident until January’s release of the state’s 2013 graduation rate, which jumped from 63 percent in 2012 to 71 percent. The increase was largely due to the Clark County School District’s implementation of the state’s 2011 directive to omit adult education students.

Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma were not included because these states received federal permission to take longer to roll out their system.

The new calculation method allows researchers to individually follow students and chart progress based on their income level. By doing so, researchers found that some states are doing much better than others in getting low-income students — or those who receive free or reduced lunch meals — to graduation day.

Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, for example, have more than half of all students counted as low income but overall graduation rates that are above average. In contrast, Minnesota, Wyoming and Alaska have a lower percentage of low-income students but a lower than average overall graduation rate.

Graduation rates increased 15 percentage points for Hispanic students and 9 percentage points for black students from 2006 to 2012, with the Hispanic students graduating at 76 percent and black students at 68 percent, the report said. To track historic trends, the graduation rates were calculated using a different method.

Also, there were 32 percent fewer dropout factories — schools that graduate less than 60 percent of students — than a decade earlier. In 2012, nearly one-quarter of black students attended a dropout factory, compared with 46 percent in 2002. About 15 percent of Hispanic students attended one of these schools, compared with 39 percent a decade earlier. There were an estimated 1,359 of these schools in 2012.