More States with High Graduation Rates

As a nation, it is critical that we prepare all students for success in college, careers, and in life. High school graduation is a vital point along that path, and the latest state-by-state graduation rates demonstrate our continued progress as a nation tackling this challenge.

This is the third year that states are using a common method, called the adjusted cohort graduation rate, to calculate four-year high school graduation rates. The new data, for the 2012-13 school year, indicate that 18 states have graduation rates at or above 85 percent, up from 16 states in the 2011-12 school year and nine in 2010-2011. This progress is a tribute to the tireless efforts of teachers, principals, parents, and other educators and staff, and of the students themselves. In this progress is consistent with the announcement this year that the nation’s overall graduation rate has hit 80 percent – the highest in our history.

It’s also worth noting the performance of individual states with the highest graduation rates, both for all their students and for traditionally underserved populations:

  • For the third year in a row, Iowa has the highest overall high school graduation rate at 89.7 percent
  • Kentucky, at 85.4 percent, had the highest graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students
  • West Virginia leads the nation with an 83 percent graduation rate for English Language Learners[1]

These 2012-13 graduation rates are state-reported data – states are responsible for verifying the accuracy of these data. States that have been approved for ESEA flexibility are using these four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates as a significant element in their school accountability systems.

In 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics will release a report updating the national on-time graduation rate for school year 2012-2013. These on-time graduation rates provide a measure of the proportion of students who successfully completed high school in four years with a regular high school diploma.

To explore the 2012-13 data use the ED Data Express Build a State Table Tool, and navigate to Achievement Data > Graduation Rate Data > Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates: 2012-13. This tool will also provide State Snapshots, and allow you to build cross-state comparisons using the Data Element Explorer.

Joshua Pollack is in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. 

[1] Although the adjusted cohort graduation rate provides a common measure of 4 year graduation rates for all states, there are still some differences across States in how they implement the rate, particularly for English learners and students with disabilities.


  1. Higher graduation rates do not equal career and college readiness. Are students performing better, therefor graduation rates are rising. Or are schools pushing students through to graduation without them achieving a level of learning that is expected. Developmental Education numbers at the post-secondary level would suggest the latter. Graduation is important, but it is clear that high school graduates are not prepared for the next steps.

  2. Although national standards in education are going through challenges by politicians, unions, and vendors, this announcement about graduation rates drive home the real reason we need uniform standards: what are these graduates prepared to do?
    It is hard for me to believe that there is a parent, educator, legislator, or employer who DOES NOT know of a student or students with a high school diploma, who is unprepared for postsecondary training, education or employment. I venture to say that even those who live in a high performing district have an unacknowledged recognition that some urban and rural schools in their state have graduates whose preparation does not MATCH the preparation of their district.
    I certainly am encouraged by increasing graduation rates. However, the questions must be answered: What is the true value of the diploma?; Can these graduates step up to the table of competition for training, education, and careers?

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