Officially, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) defines graduation rates as “the percentage[s] of students who graduated with a standard diploma within four years of their initial enrollment in ninth grade.”
So if a high school has a 70 percent graduation rate in the 2014-2015 school year, it means that of all the students who started out in ninth attending the school in the 2011-2012 school year, 70 percent of them received a standard high school diploma. Seems easy enough, right? However, you may be surprised at how strict and complex the graduation rate actually is. What about students who transfer schools, repeat a grade, or receive certificates of completion? Let’s clear up the mystery about how graduation rates are calculated.
The history of how Florida has calculated the graduation rates can be found here. We’ll give you a quick summary.
Initially, the Florida Graduation Rate was simply calculated by taking the number of students who completed high school and dividing it by the number of students who started the ninth grade four years prior. From the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, this definition only included students who received standard diplomas. In the 1985-86 school year, the definition shifted to include students who received standard diplomas, special diplomas, certificates of completion, and special certificates of completions. In 1990-1991, students, ages 16 to 19, who had earned a GED were added to the list.
Moving to the cohort method
Most relevant to the current graduation rate calculations, Florida first adopted a cohort method of calculating graduation rates in the 1998-1999 school year. The cohort method involved tracking the movements of individual students who entered the ninth grade for the first time together, while accounting for students who transferred in and out of schools, leaving a total adjusted cohort. The number of graduates in the adjusted cohort is then divided by the total adjusted cohort to compute the graduation rate. During that time, “graduates” were considered students who had received a standard diploma, a special diploma (diplomas awarded to students with disabilities), or a GED. Certificates of Completion were not recognized as “graduates” under this adopted method.
Fast forward 10 years, and the National Governors Association (NGA) graduation rate becomes the official graduation rate for Florida. The graduation rate was adapted to align with the NGA Graduation Counts Compact of 2005, which and still calculates graduation rates using the cohort method explained above, but (1) provides a standard graduation rate formula to be tracked by the entire country and (2) no longer considers students who earned a GED as “graduates.”
Today’s calculation – the most strict
In 2010-2011, Florida adopted the most restrictive graduation rate calculator yet in the Federal Uniform Graduation Rate (FUGR), which replaced the NGA graduation calculation in the 2011-2012 school year. The FUGR calculation is much more stringent for a few reasons: (1) “graduates” are considered students who receive standard diplomas only, which means not even special diplomas are included anymore; (2) students who transfer to adult education programs are NOT removed from the total adjusted cohort; and (3) students in Department of Juvenile Justice programs are credited back to their neighborhood schools. The FUGR was retroactively calculated back to the 1998-1999 school year and still coincide with the NGA Compact outlined in 2005. Comparatively, the graduation rates appear considerably lower when comparing the three calculations, because of these strict criteria. This is the method is still being used to calculate graduation rates.
Why it matters
Understanding what goes into calculating the graduation rate is important, because it becomes clear just how well Duval County is doing. Figures released today show that 76.6 percent of high school students in Duval County are earning standard diplomas that can be used to secure employment or attend college. Additionally, we can compare our school, district, and state’s graduation rates to others across the county, thanks to the NGA Compact of 2005.
See below for a total breakdown of graduation rates in Duval County and other “exit” options in the calculation pulled from the Florida Department of Education’s EdStats tool.