Are graduation rates reliable?

The 2023 graduation rate was 83.3 percent, a 0.3 percentage point decrease compared to last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Part of the dip “includes students who were incorrectly reported, or not reported as enrolled somewhere else,” shared KSTP.

The state’s four-year graduation rate has remained fairly constant over the last several years — from 83.2 percent in 2018 to a high of 83.8 percent in 2020 — but high school student proficiency has not.

While high school graduation is an important milestone, there is concern that too many students are being sent out of the system with a piece of paper and deficient skills.

Because high school students take the reading Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) in 10th grade and the math MCA in 11th grade, we don’t know exactly how well schools have prepared them academically upon graduation. We can, though, get a sense of their literacy and numeracy skills based on assessment results in previous years. As 11th graders, 36.3 percent of the class of 2023 could do grade-level math. For the upcoming class of 2024, 35.9 percent demonstrated math proficiency on the spring 2023 MCA.

Source: Data from the Minnesota Department of Education

The graduating class of 2023 experienced learning disruptions — exacerbated by school closure policy decisions — across their entire high school journey. Minnesota ACT scores continue to drop, and Minnesota student performance on national assessments is the lowest in 30 years.

“We are also continuing to see a rise in the number of seniors leaving high school without meeting any of the college readiness benchmarks, even as student GPAs continue to rise and students report that they feel prepared to be successful in college,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin when the 2023 ACT scores were released. “The hard truth is that we are not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for postsecondary success in college and career.” A common theme among many employers is that there is a skills mismatch in a particularly tight labor market.

Interestingly, parents put a lot of stock in graduation rates, according to a fall 2023 survey of U.S. K-12 school parents conducted by Morning Consult. Sixty-one percent of parents said that graduation rates tell them “a lot” about school quality, with 30 percent saying “some.”

How much do you think each of these tells us about school quality?

Source: EdChoice/Morning Consult survey conducted Nov. 3-7, 2023