Making Every Diploma Count: Using Extended-Year Graduation Rates to Measure Student Success

Making Every Diploma Count: Using Extended-Year Graduation Rates to Measure Student Success


To succeed in today’s economy, young people must complete high school prepared for success in postsecondary education and careers, but recent data show us that a quarter of the nation’s young people do not complete high school or its equivalent.  Reliance on traditional four-year graduation rates may inflate the current dropout rate and designate schools and districts as “failing” because they serve students who take longer than four years to graduate.  The American Youth Policy Forum, Gateway to College National Network, and the National Youth Employment Coalition have co-authored a policy brief, Making Every Diploma Count: Using Extended-Year Graduation Rates to Measure Student Success, voicing support for state use of extended-year graduation rates.

While the federal government allows states to use extended year-graduation rates for federal and state accountability, this option is underutilized as a strategy to encourage schools to serve struggling and off-track students.  As of May 2011, 22 states report or plan to report extended-year graduation rates, but only four explicitly use them for purposes of state accountability.  In addition, just nine states have received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to use an extended-year graduation rate for AYP calculations.

The American Youth Policy Forum, Gateway to College National Network, and the National Youth Employment Coalition along with the undersigned organizations are  encouraging states to report extended-year graduation rates and to use these rates for accountability purposes in order to create incentives for schools and districts to serve vulnerable populations.  Collectively, we feel that extended-year graduation rates are critical to supporting successful dropout reengagement and recovery strategies.  States should include graduation rates beyond the fourth year in order to encourage schools and districts to work diligently to keep struggling and off-track students engaged in school.

Below are a variety of additional resources outlining the high school dropout problem and possible policy solutions.  These publications frequently promote extended-year graduation rates and provide a rationale for their effectiveness.  Listed are the titles of relevant documents, links to access the information, and brief descriptions of the resources.

Making Every Diploma Count Extended-Year Graduation Rates Brief (Updated!!)

Available here


Extended Year Graduation Rates in Michigan

Available here

This document outlines an on-going and intentional dialogue between the state education agency and various education groups in Michigan that, led to implementation of five- and six-year graduation rates.

NGA Center Issue Brief: State Policies to Reengage Dropouts

Available at

The report offers states four policy recommendations to facilitate the reengagement of out-of-school youth.  States should set a goal to reduce the dropout rate.  States should also use data to identify dropouts and target recovery strategies.  They should provide flexible, high-quality school options for recovered dropouts.  Finally, states should consider incentives to focus on dropout recovery if resources exist.  In addition to the recommendations, the report also suggests that states use extended year graduation rates to highlight their work with struggling students who take more than four years to graduate.

Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic

Available at Grad%20Nation/Building%20a%20Grad%20Nation/Building%20a%20Grad%20Nation_FullReport_FINAL%2011-30-10.ashx

The central message of this report is that some states and school districts are raising their high school graduation rates with scalable solutions in our public schools; however, the pace is too slow to meet the national goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020.1 We must calibrate our educational system to the greater demands of the 21st century through a Civic Marshall Plan to make more accelerated progress in boosting student achievement, high school graduation rates, and college- and career-readiness.

Graduation Counts:  A Compact on State High School Graduation Data

Available at

The National Governors Association, under the leadership of NGA Chair Governor Mark R. Warner of Virginia, convened a Task Force on State High School Graduation Data to make recommendations about how states can develop a high-quality, comparable high school graduation measure, as well as complementary indicators of student progress and outcomes and data systems capable of collecting, analyzing, and reporting the data states need. This report outlines those recommendations and the rationale for each.

Implementing Graduation Counts: State Progress to Date, 2010

Available at

In 2005, governors from the 50 states signed the Graduation Counts Compact and committed their state to a common formula for calculating its high school graduation rate. This report summarizes the progress of each state in reporting and collecting necessary data for common formula graduation rates.

It also provides a general overview of the progress of state educational data systems since the Task force met in 2005.

High School Graduation Rate: Non-Regulatory Guidance

Available at

In 2008, the Department of Education published final regulations on Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The amendments included new requirements for calculating graduation rate for high school.  In addition to calculating the four-year graduation rate, these amendments allow states to apply to the Department for approval to use an extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rate as part of its AYP calculations.  This non-regulatory guidance provides States, local education agencies, and schools with information about how to implement the provisions.

Webinar: Understanding Extended Year Graduation Rates: Lessons Learned by States

Available here

The American Youth Policy Forum, Gateway to College National Network, and the National Youth Employment Coalition organized this webinar focusing on how states can effectively calculate and use extended-year graduation rates (5- and 6-year rates) to improve outcomes for all students. In particular, off-track students and out-of-school youth benefit as extended-year graduation rates incent states to create options to serve these students.  The panelists provided an overview of extended-year graduation rates and share experiences from their own states.  Through this exploration, we described how states are using these rates both for accountability purposes and to increase opportunities for high school students to earn a diploma.

Texas Education Agency, Department of Assessment, Accountability, and Data Quality Division of Performance Reporting  2010 Accountability Manual.

Available at

The state accountability system assigns ratings to every campus and district in the Texas public education system each year. In most cases the system assigns one of four rating labels —ranging from lowest to highest—Academically Unacceptable, Academically Acceptable, Recognized, and Exemplary. The Accountability Manual is a technical resource that explains how districts and campuses are evaluated. It outlines the standard procedures as well as those for alternative education campuses and provides the information necessary for determining 2010 ratings and acknowledgments.

Whatever It Takes: How Twelve Communities Are Reconnecting Out-Of-School Youth

Available here

This collection of case studies documents what committed educators, policymakers, and community leaders across the country are doing to reconnect out-of-school youth to the social and economic mainstream. It provides background on the serious high school dropout problem and describes in-depth what twelve communities are doing to reconnect dropouts to education and employment training. It also includes descriptions of major national program models serving out-of-school youth.

Federal, State, and Local Roles in Supporting Alternative Education

Available here

This paper raises issues for policymakers at all levels to consider in facilitating the development of expanded alternative education pathways, which reduce the number of students dropping out of school and provide well-lit reentry points for those who leave school before obtaining a diploma.  Additionally, it provides an overview of policies and funding for alternative education at the Federal, state, and local levels and discusses issues of accountability, data collection, and assistance to providers. The paper raises concerns about fragmentation of services and proposes opportunities for strengthening the current system to better serve youth.

Connected by 25: Effective Policy Solutions for Vulnerable Youth

Available at

In an effort to strengthen philanthropic investments among its membership, the Youth Transition Funders Group (YTFG) asked a group of policy experts to provide recommendations on how foundations can work to encourage effective policy solutions on issues affecting youth in transition to adulthood.  The primary challenge was to think beyond the systemic silos that so deeply shape the services and expectations of youth and move towards an overall framework that could produce improved outcomes. This issue brief offers a summary of those recommendations, elements of which include extended-year graduation rates and focus on four primary transition points that often threaten the ability of youth to be connected by age 25.

Closing the Graduation Gap: A Superintendent’s Guide for Planning Multiple Pathways to Graduation

Available at

Graduation statistics from around the nation continue to lag — especially for low-income students and students of color. In April 2008, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced that the Department of Education would take administrative steps to ensure all states use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time, and how many drop out. As more states measure four- and five-year graduation data using a longitudinal cohort method, rates calculated under the new formulas are bound to cause a stir across our communities. This guide, built upon the emerging lessons from successful districts nationwide, is designed to help districts plan a comprehensive reform process to increase graduation rates for all students.

Connecting Youth Through Multiple Pathways

Available at

This preliminary field scan prepared by Public Impact for the Annie E. Casey Foundation describes the issues faced by many disconnected youth.  It highlights characteristics or “markers” that put youth at risk of becoming disconnected, and proposes multiple pathways to graduation.  The field scan outlines what municipalities are doing to reconnect youth, what works best for disconnected youth, ideas for what should be done for these youth, and ways that the Annie E. Casey Foundation to become involved.

Transition to Adulthood, The Future of Children, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring 2010

Available at /index.xml?journalid=72

Contributors to this volume examine some of the institutions that house and serve young adults—higher education, the workplace, the community, the military, and, for a group of especially vulnerable youth, the juvenile justice, foster care, and related systems. The contributors review research that assesses how well these institutions support today’s young adults in their quest for education, economic independence, family formation, and civic responsibility. They also suggest policies that increase flexibility and pathways for these youth to achieve a high school diploma and postsecondary credentials.

Every Student Counts: The Role of Federal Policy in Improving Graduation Rate Accountability

Available at

This brief provides background information on the movement toward better data collection, common graduation rate calculations, and meaningful accountability for raising graduation rates.  It also describes in detail the culminating federal policy changes made in 2008 regulations in Title I of No Child Left Behind, which reflect both the significant progress that has been made and the hurdles that remain.

Key Considerations for Serving Disconnected Youth

Available here

This paper provides a description of the youth population that is disconnected from education and the workforce and describes a set of key considerations for improving outcomes for this population. Programmatic examples that demonstrate how effective supports for youth look in practice are discussed. The paper concludes with policy recommendations for serving youth at the federal, state and local levels.

Reinventing Alternative Education: An Assessment of Current State Policy and How to Improve It

Available at

This report identifies seven model policy elements that states should incorporate in order to develop and improve alternative pathways for struggling students and former dropouts. Jobs for the Future performed this comprehensive 50-state policy scan to assess the extent to which state policy aligns with these model elements.

Six Pillars of Effective Dropout Prevention and Recovery: An Assessment of Current State Policy and How to Improve It

Available at

This report identifies six model policy elements that frame a sound legislative strategy for dropout prevention and recovery, and it assesses the extent to which recent state policy aligns with these model elements.

The following organizations encourage states to report extended-year graduation rates and use these rates for accountability purposes in order to create incentives for schools and districts to serve students who fall off-track to graduation. Click on the organization’s logo below to be sent to its website!

If your organization is interested in demonstrating support for this effort, please contact Jennifer Brown Lerner. We will continue to accept support and update our electronic version of the brief!