University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Take THAT Massachusetts

In The View from the OEP on December 16, 2015 at 11:33 am


Data released yesterday by the U.S Department of Education show that Arkansas’ high school graduation rate has increased AGAIN!  Not only is Arkansas graduating more students than the national average, but also graduating more students than Massachusetts (a state known for high performance)!

Seriously!  Take THAT Massachusetts!

How Do Arkansas Graduation Rates Compare to the Nation?

There’s a big graduation advantage for Arkansas students.  For the first time, more than 80% of African American students graduated.  That’s 9 percentage points higher than the national average. Arkansas also has a higher Hispanic rate- 85% compared to 76%, and even white students are more likely to graduate in Arkansas compared to their peers nationally.

Students who are Economically Disadvantaged are also more likely to graduate in Arkansas, and students who are Limited English Proficient or have Disabilities have a 20 point advantage over their peers nationally.




What About Graduation Gaps?


Differences in graduation rates for students from different backgrounds are closing, and because all graduation rates are increasing, which is a good thing!  The gap between Black and White student graduation rates has closed 33% since 2010, from 12 to 8 points.  Nationally, the gap has been slower to close, decreasing only 12% and reflecting a 15 point gap this year.

The Arkansas data reflects a dramatic closure in the gap between Hispanic and White students.  The gap has closed 60% since 2010, from 12 to 5 points.  Unfortunately, the national Hispanic/ White graduation rate gap remains essentially unchanged at 11 points this year.

In terms of economically disadvantaged students, the data only allow us to examine the gap between the graduation rate for these students and the overall graduation rate. We see good news here as well- with the gap closing to only 4 percentage points- a decline 0f 33%. Because the Economically Disadvantage students are included in the overall graduation rate, however, we look forward to Arkansas’ more appropriate comparison between Targeted Achievement Gap Group (TAGG) student graduation rates and their Non-TAGG peers.

How About the Neighbors?


Arkansas is graduating students at rates similar to states that have fewer students at risk, and has the largest gains in overall graduation rates of the bordering states.  Arkansas’ overall graduation rate has increased 6 points since 2011, and although 61% of students in Arkansas are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, the graduation rate of 87% matched that of Missouri where only 45% of students are economically disadvantaged.

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And, as we mentioned, Arkansas for the first time reports a higher graduation rate than Massachusetts (87% to 86%).  In fact, we rank 15th in the nation.  Hooray for Arkansas!

What does it MEAN for Arkansas students?


We know kids who graduate from high school perform better in life: there are significant financial consequences for students who do not graduate from high school. On average, graduates earn more than $10,000 more per year than their peers who didn’t receive a diploma.

While we celebrate the rising graduation rates, there are some who are concerned that graduation rates might be an imperfect metric of student success.  Other metrics show Arkansas students are not well prepared for success.

ACT scores have remained virtually unchanged even though graduation rates are rising, and only 21% of students in the class of 2014 met College-Ready Benchmarks on the ACT.

In addition, a report from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education highlights that 35.2% of students who had just graduated from high school were required to complete remedial coursework once they entered college. Although that is the lowest remediation rate since 2009, it is still over a third of high school graduates entering college unprepared.  The report also noted that 21.4% percent of the students required to take remedial courses had graduated high school with a 3.0 GPA or better.

Graduation Rates are Not Going Away


The Every Student Succeeds Act continues to place emphasis on graduation rates. The new federal education law, signed by President Barack Obama last week, requires states to intervene in high schools that failed to graduate more than two-thirds of their students, commonly referred to as “dropout factories.”  Arkansas has very few schools with graduation rates lower than 66%, and those that do serve unique student populations.  You can access the list of 2013-14 graduation rates for Arkansas schools and districts here.

Here at the OEP, we celebrate Arkansas’ success in improving high school graduation rates!  We also suggest that policymakers, parents and students keep working, and remember that a high school diploma is only one of the keys to student success.



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