States where high schoolers are least likely to graduate

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November 11, 2020
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States where high schoolers are least likely to graduate

High school isn’t all football games, homecoming dances, and cafeteria hangouts with friends. For many students, it’s a socially and academically demanding time filled with stressful exams, embarrassing moments, and worries about what to do after graduation.

These days, it’s even harder, with the coronavirus forcing many students to attend classes from home, unable to see friends and missing out on all the sports, music programs, drama productions, and hands-on arts and mechanics projects that can help make school fun.

Pressures not to finish high school can be intense. Students leave to find jobs, move and don’t reenroll, fail classes, and fall so far behind that they lose interest. And that’s not even considering pressures like domestic violence, family emergencies, and teenage pregnancy that might tempt someone to drop out. Without a high school diploma, it’s harder to find jobs—and harder to find jobs that pay well. Workers with high school diplomas make an average of $154 more a week than those without, and they earn about $1 million more over the course of their lifetimes. People without high school degrees are more likely to end up in prison or on welfare.

Nationwide, the rate of students graduating from high school in four years was 85.3% in the Class of 2018. It was 79% for Black students, 81% for Hispanic students, 79.5% for economically disadvantaged students, 68.3% for students who learned English as a second language, and 67.1% for students with disabilities.

Schools across the country—there are about 24,400 public high schools in the United States—look for ways to keep students on track to earn their high school diplomas.

Some offer programs for students to retake classes or make up credits outside of regular school hours. Others hire more counselors and tutors, find mentors, or try to attract good teachers by paying higher salaries than other regions. Still other schools make an effort to make students from a young age think about their options beyond graduation and help them plan to reach their goals or track their progress closely, intervening to address signs of trouble, frustration, or failure.

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Stacker ranked the 50 states and Washington D.C. by their public high school four-year graduation rate in the 2017-2018 school year. This data was last updated in May 2020. Each slide also includes the graduation rates for students who are economically disadvantaged, have limited English proficiency, have a disability, are homeless, or live in foster care.

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#51. Washington D.C.

- Total graduation rate: 68.5%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 58.9%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 56.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 47.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 44.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 46.0%

The high school graduation rate in the District of Columbia has fallen since an investigation revealed that one in three graduates in 2017 got diplomas even though they had missed too many classes or took makeup classes improperly. These revelations forced the system to tighten graduation requirements, particularly its credit-recovery program, which allows students who have failed classes to make up credits outside of regular school hours. The city added a requirement that students must take and pass exams as part of the program.

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#50. New Mexico

- Total graduation rate: 73.9%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 69.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 71.1%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 65.6%
--- Rate among homeless students: 53.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 46.0%

A significant anchor on the high school graduation rate in New Mexico, the lowest among the U.S. states, is the dropout rate among Native American students. The state is home to 23 Native American tribes, and 10% of the student population is indigenous. Graduation rates among Native Americans in New Mexico have improved but lag behind the overall rate by more than 5 percentage points.

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#49. Alaska

- Total graduation rate: 78.5%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 71.9%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 61.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 57.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 57.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 55.0%

A critical issue facing Alaska’s schools is the difficulty recruiting qualified teachers to its rural areas, which are remote and have high costs of living. To attract educators, the state‘s teaching salaries are far higher than the national average—more than $102,000 a year compared with a national average of less than $70,000 in 2019—but turnover is still high. Other factors in student achievement are families with high rates of both alcoholism and opioid use, officials say.

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#47. Oregon (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 78.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 72.4%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 56.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 60.6%
--- Rate among homeless students: 54.1%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

Oregon’s high school graduation rate, while low compared with other states, represents a notable improvement over that of a decade ago, when it was 66.2%. The improvement is attributed to Measure 98, the High School Success Act of 2016, which allotted $170 million to the state’s 255 high school districts. The money was earmarked for dropout prevention programs as well as career, technical, and college-focused classes. A factor affecting graduation rates is homelessness: In 2019, Oregon had more than 22,000 homeless students, according to estimates. The likelihood that students graduate on time drops to 55.4% when they become homeless.

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#47. Arizona (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 78.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 73.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 47.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 67.7%
--- Rate among homeless students: 52.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 45.0%

More than 5% (nearly 400,000) of Arizona residents are Native American, and the high school graduation among Native American students is some 10 percentage points below the state’s overall rate. The state is home to 21 recognized tribes. Also, the Hispanic high school dropout rate is about twice as high as that of white students. Nearly one in three residents has Hispanic or Latino origins.

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#46. Michigan

- Total graduation rate: 80.6%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 70.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 71.2%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 57.5%
--- Rate among homeless students: 57.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 40.0%

Michigan's high school graduation rate has been rising in recent years, and the state’s dropout rate declined, except in Detroit, which has seen its graduation rate decrease. Some high schools in Detroit reverted back to local control in 2017 after being run by a state agency aimed at improving poorly performing schools. Detroit schools have placed renewed emphasis on literacy and math classes, career-focused programs, attendance, absenteeism, staffing, and discipline. Statewide, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has set a goal for 60% of residents to complete a post-secondary training program or a university or college degree by 2030.

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#45. Idaho

- Total graduation rate: 80.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 72.3%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 76.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 59.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 58.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 47.0%

Idaho’s high school graduation rate has been on the rise for the last several years, up from 78.9% in 2015. The spike is linked in part to an accountability plan, put in place as of the 2018-19 school year, that included the issue of online report cards for each school. The report cards are designed to give ready access to achievement data, test results, enrollment, graduation rates, demographics, and teacher retention, replacing difficult-to-read data spreadsheets that were used in the past.

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#44. Colorado

- Total graduation rate: 80.8%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 70.7%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 67.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 58.6%
--- Rate among homeless students: 55.4%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 25.0%

Colorado’s four-year high school graduation rate has been rising, although more significant gains have been made among students graduating in five, six, and seven years. Graduates next year will have new requirements requiring proven competence in English and math.

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#43. South Carolina

- Total graduation rate: 81.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 83.2%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 80.3%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 52.1%
--- Rate among homeless students: 64.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 48.0%

The high school graduation rate rose in South Carolina with the class of 2020, after falling for three years. The results vary dramatically around the state, however, from a high of 95.7% in a northern York County school district to a low of 71.8% in a mid-state Florence County district. The graduation rate in the latter district has dropped nearly 15 percentage points over the course of the last three years.

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#42. Louisiana

- Total graduation rate: 81.4%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 75.5%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 36.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 59.3%
--- Rate among homeless students: 60.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 35.0%

Louisiana's public high school graduation rate hit a milestone in 2018 when it topped 80%, a goal that was set in a 2009 state law. Just a decade ago, in 2010, Louisiana’s high school graduation rate was 67.2%, meaning practically a third of its students failed to graduate on time.

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#41. Georgia

- Total graduation rate: 81.6%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 77.1%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 57.9%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 61.1%
--- Rate among homeless students: 61.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 37.0%

In Georgia, the high school graduation rate in 2019 hit a record high of 82%, up 12 percentage points in seven years. Two-dozen districts clocked in with graduation rates of 95% or higher. School officials pointed to efforts at tailoring education to students’ individual needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, for the improvements.

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#40. Wyoming

- Total graduation rate: 81.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 70.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 61.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 63.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 62.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

Wyoming's high school graduation rates have been steadily rising. School officials have attributed the improvement to efforts to intervene with students who are struggling. Schools added resources such as counselors, professional training, and support programs for students.

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#39. Oklahoma

- Total graduation rate: 81.8%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 74.9%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 61.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 58.3%
--- Rate among homeless students: 67.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 61.0%

Statewide, 16% of adults under age 24 do not have a high school diploma in Oklahoma. The dropout rate has risen, officials say, due to funding cuts for at-risk students and increasing class sizes. Another associated issue is literacy, with some 140,000 people who cannot read in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area alone, according to literacy advocates.

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#38. Ohio

- Total graduation rate: 82.1%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 70.9%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 64.5%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 51.4%
--- Rate among homeless students: 50.7%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 52.0%

Four-year graduation rates top 90% in most of Ohio, with much lower rates in its urban schools. In the annual report cards released on each school, which this year contained limited information on year-over-year progress and other assessment metrics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dayton schools ranked nearly last in their four-year graduation rates, while several small rural districts had rates of 100%. In the Piqua district of Ohio, where the graduation rate increased by 5%, officials credited its Success Bound plan, which encourages children in elementary school to think about their options in college, the military, and careers.

 

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#37. New York

- Total graduation rate: 82.3%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 76.4%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 31.1%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 56.9%
--- Rate among homeless students: 55.9%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 61.0%

The high school graduation rate has been rising slightly in New York for several years. A racial gap has narrowed, but there remains about a 15 percentage point difference between white students and students of color. New York City’s rate rose 1.4 percentage points to 77.3%. In upstate New York, Rochester’s rate for June 2019-20 was low, at 66.3%, but a marked improvement from 43% in 2013. State education officials in November 2019 kicked off a two-year process to reconsider and revamp graduation requirements, potentially reevaluating the role of exit exams and other measures.

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#36. California

- Total graduation rate: 83.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 79.6%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 67.9%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 66.3%
--- Rate among homeless students: 68.9%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 53.1%

In 2019, state education officials launched a School Dashboard as part of a five-year overhaul of its accountability system, with information on graduation rates, suspension, test scores, absenteeism, and other metrics. Suspension rates dropped, and college and career readiness improved, but a racial gap persists—Black students graduated in four years at a rate of 78.6%, compared with 89.1% of white students. It also found a rise in chronic absenteeism attributed to either natural disaster or rising homelessness. A recent report by UCLA estimated there were at least 269,000 homeless students in California in 2019, a number likely higher now due to job losses in the pandemic. Homeless students have a far lower chance of graduating than do those with homes.

 

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#34. Nevada (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 83.2%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 80.5%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 76.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 66.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 76.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 46.0%

Nevada’s high school graduation rate lowered slightly to 84.11% in 2018, but the rate had risen a healthy 3.26 percentage points the previous year. The higher rates have been across the state, with graduation rates improving among Native Americans and Black students, as well as those with special needs and those for whom English is a second language. School officials credit expanding access to good teachers and providing students with life skills for improved rates. Students in career and technical education programs, in which they learn specific job skills such as health care or businesses, had the highest graduation rates, at 94.19%.

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#34. Minnesota (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 83.2%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 70.2%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 65.7%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 62.3%
--- Rate among homeless students: 47.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

In Minnesota, the rate of students graduating from high school in four years has been inching up in recent years, although it dropped slightly in 2020 from 83.7% the previous year. The rate among Native American students was about 50%, however. School districts with better rates have made efforts at cultural responsiveness and inclusivity, such as an adult mentor program in Duluth for American Indian students and an Ojibwa immersion program for students to learn the indigenous language and culture. Some 61,000 Minnesota residents are American Indians, and the most common indigenous language in the state is Ojibwa.

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#32. Rhode Island (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 84.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 77.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 72.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 62.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 57.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: ≥50%%

Graduation rates among Rhode Island students who come from non-English-speaking families, the fastest-growing student population, have failed to improve significantly in recent years, causing concern among educators. The rate has hovered at about 72% since a recent high of 75.5% in 2016. Advocates say students need more state funding, bilingual education efforts, and qualified teachers. An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in 2018 found that the city of Providence put hundreds of English learners in schools without adequate services and failed to provide qualified teachers or communicate properly with their families. Both sides agreed to resolve the issues.

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#32. Mississippi (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 84.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 80.8%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 55.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 38.4%
--- Rate among homeless students: 71.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 80.0%

Mississippi’s high school graduation rate has been climbing steadily to new highs. The state features a program under which high school students can opt to earn a traditional diploma or take additional classes to concentrate either on academics or a career and technical emphasis. The endorsement program, as it is called, is designed to prepare students for the workforce, career or technical training, military service, or college. Those who opt for certain academic-oriented diplomas can automatically be admitted to the state’s public universities.

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#31. South Dakota

- Total graduation rate: 84.1%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 69.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 77.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 63.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 60.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

South Dakota’s four-year high school graduation rate held steady this year, but state officials releasing 2020 data on public schools, including performance measures like high school graduation rates, noted that the report was missing a number of indicators of student performance due to COVID-19. Missing were assessments in English, math, and science, as well as attendance records and other information.

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#30. Hawaii

- Total graduation rate: 84.5%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 79.5%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 68.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 64.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 66.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 57.0%

Like many states, Hawaii modified its high school graduation requirements for the Class of 2020 due to the coronavirus. The changes included more flexibility in performance assessment, extensions, plans for personalized interventions, and the cancelation of standardized tests in English language arts, math, science, and other topics. The modifications affected more than 10,000 students who were eligible to graduate in 2020.

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#29. Vermont

- Total graduation rate: 85.1%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 76.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 58.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 68.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 60.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

Vermont is typically one of the top five U.S. states in terms of funding of education, spending nearly $20,000 per student annually. Some 93% of Vermont adults have high school degrees or the equivalent, second in New England only to New Hampshire. Vermont also has a lower dropout rate, 7%, than most of its neighbors.

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#28. Pennsylvania

- Total graduation rate: 85.9%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 77.9%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 65.8%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 70.2%
--- Rate among homeless students: 70.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

Pennsylvania set a target in 2018 to reach a 92% minimum-four-year high school graduation rate by 2030. About a third of its public schools have met that goal, but in several of its districts, more than a quarter of students don’t graduate high school in four years. Those regions tend to have a majority of students who are economically disadvantaged, and some have a substantial number of students learning English as a second language.

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#26. North Carolina (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 86.3%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 80.4%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 68.4%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 69.1%
--- Rate among homeless students: 67.2%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 73.0%

North Carolina’s four-year high school graduation rate has been improving and is significantly higher than the 2006 rate of 68.3%. Since 2006, the graduation rate for low-income students has increased by 26.6 percentage points, while the rate among Black students has improved by 24.8 precentage points.

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#26. Florida (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 86.3%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 82.3%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 75.2%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 77.4%
--- Rate among homeless students: 73.9%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 50.0%

The four-year graduation rate in Florida has been rising steadily, but with large gaps between its highs and lows. Significant improvement has been made in the northwestern Liberty and Jackson counties and south-central DeSoto County, but numbers dropped in northwestern Gadsden and Jefferson counties. Meanwhile, the average score in Florida on the SAT college entrance exams fell 15 points, 60 points below the national average.

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#25. Montana

- Total graduation rate: 86.4%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 78.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 63.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 77.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 66.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 75.0%

While four-year graduation rates have been rising in Montana, the rate among Native American students has dropped slightly and has at times been more than 20 percentage points lower than that among white students. Native Americans number just under 65,000 residents in Montana, about 6.2% of the population.

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#24. Illinois

- Total graduation rate: 86.5%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 78.7%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 72.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 71.6%
--- Rate among homeless students: 67.8%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 56.0%

Graduation rates in Illinois have been holding steady, but the state has grappled with issues of chronic truancy and student dropouts. The chronic truancy rate last year was 13.4% (it has been climbing since a rate of 3.2% in 2011), and the dropout rate in 2019 was 4.2%. Chicago, however, saw a record-breaking 83.5% graduation rate in 2019-2020, despite students finishing up remotely, and a record-low dropout rate at 5.6%. It’s a remarkable change from a decade ago; in 2010 only 55.8% of high school seniors in Chicago were graduating in four years. The city has a Freshman OnTrack program that measures students’ progress toward graduation, paving the way for interventions with vulnerable ninth-graders.

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#22. Washington (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 86.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 79.9%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 75.7%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 69.9%
--- Rate among homeless students: 64.5%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 70.0%

The accuracy of Washington’s high school graduation rates came into question after audits found at least 18 of its 295 public school districts did not report data as required by the federal government, including Seattle and the nearby cities of Renton, Bellevue, and Puyallup. The districts failed to keep proper records of transfer students in the 2017-18 school year and how they were tallied in graduation data. The audits came after the U.S. Office of Management and Budget called for states to look at compliance with federal graduation reporting standards.

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#22. Maine (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 86.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 77.8%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 76.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 74.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 57.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 56.0%

A proposal before Maine’s legislature is designed to boost the high school graduation rates of students who are homeless or in foster care. Homeless students graduate at a rate of less than 58%, and those in foster care graduate at a rate of 56%, according to child advocates, typically because they have to move frequently and their schooling is disrupted. The bill would require schools and educators to be more supportive in helping vulnerable students earn their diplomas. State data counted almost 6,000 people as homeless in Maine last year.

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#21. Delaware

- Total graduation rate: 86.9%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 78.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 69.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 69.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 83.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 62.0%

Delaware’s high school students graduated at a record rate in 2019, the highest overall level in almost a decade. Graduation rates for Black students (86.37%) and Hispanic students (85.02%) also hit record highs since 2010, but the rate among English learners lagged at 75.25%, while that among students with disabilities, while also at a high, was just 71.59%.

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#20. Utah

- Total graduation rate: 87.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 77.4%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 70.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 70.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: data not available
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

Utah’s four-year graduation rates have been on the rise for seven straight years. In issuing the latest statistics, the state superintendent noted that students without high school diplomas are less likely to earn a living wage, move on to higher education, or become civically engaged. Fourteen of the state’s public high schools had four-year graduation rates of 100%.

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#19. Maryland

- Total graduation rate: 87.1%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 78.8%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 51.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 66.8%
--- Rate among homeless students: 67.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 59.0%

Maryland’s four-year high school graduation rate dipped in 2019, with some schools in Baltimore showing dramatic declines. The most recent state figures showed a rate of 86.9% in 2019, compared with 87.1% the year before, and the rate dropped by 1.85 percentage points to 70.3% in Baltimore City, where officials cited the state’s new graduation requirements, first applied to the class of 2019. Under the new requirements, students must earn minimum scores on English and algebra assessment tests or work on a project that demonstrates they know the material.

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#18. Kansas

- Total graduation rate: 87.2%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 80.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 80.5%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 80.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 68.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 61.0%

Kansas’ high school graduation rate has shown improvement in recent years, linked in part to the Kansans Can plan that since 2015 has measured progress in education with benchmarks like graduation rates, student career planning, and kindergarten readiness. Among the 40% of the state’s low-income students (called “free lunch” students), however, the graduation rate has increased to 78% but remains some 10 percentage points below the broader rate. Overall, 91% of Kansas over age 24 had a high school diploma or equivalent in 2017, compared with 28.5% in 1940.

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#17. Virginia

- Total graduation rate: 87.5%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 79.6%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 57.2%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 61.2%
--- Rate among homeless students: 60.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 63.0%

Despite the pandemic, Virginia’s high school seniors set a new high for on-time graduation at a rate of 92.3% in 2020. Because schools were closed, standardized tests and other requirements were waived to allow students to graduate on time, officials said. Among various groups of students, the graduation rate was 82% for Hispanic students, 91.3% for Black students, and 95.2% for white students.

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#16. Massachusetts

- Total graduation rate: 87.8%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 77.4%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 64.1%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 72.4%
--- Rate among homeless students: 71.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 61.0%

Across Massachusetts, the rate of students graduating from high school in four years held steady in 2018 and 2019 at about 88%, but rates in Boston showed wide gaps in terms of race and ethnicity. The city’s overall graduation rate for the Class of 2019 was 73.2%, down from 75.1% the previous year and the first decline since 2007. The rate among Black students fell to 71.9% from 76.4%, while the rate among Latino students was 67%.

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#14. North Dakota (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 88.1%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 75.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 68.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 69.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 52.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 71.0%

In North Dakota, high school graduation rates have shown a marked improvement among Native American students. While the rate of 72% lags behind the overall rate, it’s up from 57% in 2012. Educators say school boards have gotten more involved in issues that affect Native American students, teachers are being trained in Native American culture, and schools have implemented curriculums that reflect tribal history and lifestyles.

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#14. Indiana (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 88.1%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 84.5%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 69.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 72.6%
--- Rate among homeless students: 82.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 68.0%

Indiana’s high school graduation rate fell in 2019 to 87.29%, from 88.11% in 2018. The state revamped its requirements for high school graduation in 2017, offering more flexible options such as earning career-related credentials or certain scores on college entrance exams as credit toward a diploma. Indianapolis public schools, which make up the state’s largest district, had a graduation rate of 82.39%. The city consolidated its high schools into four in 2019, creating schools with specialized programs to encourage higher student participation and performance.

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#13. Connecticut

- Total graduation rate: 88.4%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 79.5%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 67.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 65.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 70.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 48.0%

Connecticut’s four-year graduation rate has held steady over the last two years, but with improved rates among low-income students, those with disabilities, and English learners. State educators say they have found success with flexible options for earning credit, like after-school and online programming; smaller learning environments; and supportive staff, including job coaches and bilingual social workers.

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#12. Nebraska

- Total graduation rate: 88.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 81.2%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 49.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 69.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 59.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

The four-year graduation rate in Nebraska’s public high schools has edged up slightly in the last decade from 86.1% in 2011. A noticeable gender gap exists, with female students graduating at a higher rate than male students. In the Class of 2019, females graduated on time at a rate of 91.8%, while males graduated at 85.3%.

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#11. New Hampshire

- Total graduation rate: 88.8%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 78.1%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 70.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 74.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 65.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 44.0%

In New Hampshire, research released this year found a correlation between higher teacher salaries and higher graduation rates. Students in districts where teachers earned higher pay graduated from high school on time at a higher rate than those paying lower salaries. Where teachers were paid less than $48,000, the graduation rate averaged 87.4%; where teachers were paid more than $63,000, the graduation rate averaged 94.5%.

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#9. Missouri (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 89.2%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 82.1%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 71.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 75.8%
--- Rate among homeless students: 76.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 69.0%

The urban areas of Kansas City and St. Louis significantly lag behind the state’s four-year high school graduation rate, with only 71.6% of students graduating on time in Kansas City and 72.7% in St. Louis. In the state’s largest district, Springfield, where the on-time graduation rate was 88.5%, educators say students’ performance is monitored closely, with an eye toward interventions like alternative programs, online learning options, mentors, tutors, and mental health counseling. Springfield also partnered with a local technical community college to offer collegiate courses to high school juniors and seniors.

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#9. Arkansas (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 89.2%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 86.8%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 83.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 84.6%
--- Rate among homeless students: 81.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 74.0%

The graduation rate in Arkansas has been on the rise in recent years, hitting 89.2% in 2018 compared with 79% in 2011. The state’s schools have added course options and internships and have expanded flexibility for students to attend college classes. A 2019 law required schools to reform their counseling programs so that counselors reduce time spent on administrative tasks and spend at least 90% of their time in direct and indirect student services. The state is also holding school districts accountable for graduation rates, giving financial awards to the top 10%.

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#8. Wisconsin

- Total graduation rate: 89.7%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 80.3%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 70.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 68.6%
--- Rate among homeless students: 70.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 51.0%

In Wisconsin, the rate of high school students graduating on time in 2019 showed improvement from the year before, at 90%. The rate among Black students, however, was just 71.3%, although it has risen steadily from 64% in 2015. Students who do not come from English-speaking backgrounds showed the biggest one-year improvement, boosting their 2018 graduation rates by 4.5 percentage points to 74.6%.

 

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#5. Texas (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 90.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 87.3%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 77.2%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 77.9%
--- Rate among homeless students: 80.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 63.0%

In Texas, more than 260 high schools could boast of a graduation rate of 100% in 2018, accounting for almost one in 10 of its 2,813 public high schools. To get their diplomas, Texas students have to pass statewide tests in English, science, math, and social studies and earn a minimum of 22 credits that include fine arts and English.

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#5. Tennessee (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 90.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 83.5%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 71.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 73.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 75.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 67.0%

Tennessee’s on-time graduation rate hit an all-time high in 2019, reflecting gains among Black students, Hispanic students, and English learners. Among the state’s urban school districts, Nashville led the way with an improvement from 2018 of more than 2 percentage points, to 82.4%. The largest district, Shelby County, had a rate of 79.3%, shy of its goal of reaching a 90% graduation rate by 2025.

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#5. Alabama (tie)

- Total graduation rate: 90.0%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 84.4%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 64.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 68.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 78.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 77.0%

Alabama’s report, which showed students graduating on time at 89% in 2017 and those with disabilities at 74%, attracted the scrutiny of federal officials, who questioned how the first figure was up by more than 20 percentage points in a year and the second had risen by 40 percentage points. The federal inquiry, launched in February, came two years after the state was found to have falsified and inflated high school graduation rates.

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#4. West Virginia

- Total graduation rate: 90.2%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 88.0%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 93.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 77.0%
--- Rate among homeless students: 87.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 72.0%

West Virginia’s graduation rates hit new highs in 2019, the latest data available, to 91.4% overall. The state also had a notable gain in the graduation rate among students with disabilities at 78.8%, up some 10 percentage points in five years, an improvement that officials linked to more focused support efforts. West Virginia has shifted to offering more classes that high school students can take for college credit.

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#3. Kentucky

- Total graduation rate: 90.3%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 87.8%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 70.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 74.8%
--- Rate among homeless students: 84.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: data not available

Kentucky’s public schools showed the on-time graduation rate rising to 90.9% for the Class of 2020, but the assessments were missing critical data on test scores and other measures like attendance, and the state canceled spring’s standardized tests and assessments due to the coronavirus. The state’s largest school district, encompassing Louisville, had an on-time graduation rate of 83.5%. Kentucky introduced new high school graduation requirements in the 2019-2020 school year that give students the opportunity to take more classes related to their post-graduation plans, and also add coursework, testing, apprenticeships, or work-experience options to make sure they have math and reading skills. The new requirements followed criticism that the state was graduating students without giving them adequate life and work skills.

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#2. New Jersey

- Total graduation rate: 90.9%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 84.6%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 75.8%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 80.1%
--- Rate among homeless students: 73.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 63.0%

New Jersey waived its graduation requirements for the Class of 2020 due to the pandemic. Under the eased regulations, Newark’s school system saw the on-time graduation rate hit 81%, up some 5 percentage points from the previous year. Typically, students in New Jersey must earn a certain number of credits and pass standardized math and English tests to graduate.

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#1. Iowa

- Total graduation rate: 91.4%
--- Rate among economically disadvantaged students: 84.4%
--- Rate among students with limited English proficiency: 79.0%
--- Rate among students with disabilities: 76.5%
--- Rate among homeless students: 73.0%
--- Rate among students in foster care: 76.0%

Not only does Iowa enjoy the best on-time high school graduation rate in the country, hitting 91.6% in 2019, but the positive results reach across diverse groups of students. Over the past eight years, rates rose 9.3 percentage points for Hispanic students, 8.8 percentage points for students whose first language is not English, and 8.4 percentage points among Black students. Iowa uses a system that assigns students identification numbers, allowing their educational progress to be tracked even if they switch schools.

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