University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Begin with the End in Mind

In The View from the OEP on September 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm


Beginning the school year with the end in mind, we are pleased to release our newest Arkansas Education Report: Graduation Rates in Arkansas, an Updated Descriptive Analysis! This report examines trends in Arkansas’ graduation rates overall and for at risk students over the past four years. We consider the relationship between graduation rate and several district- and school- level factors including district size, cohort (grade-level) enrollment, school poverty rates, and school location (rural, town, suburb, or city).

High school graduation is an increasingly important metric of school performance, and research finds that students who fail to graduate face a variety of negative consequences including lower lifetime earning and poorer health.  The good news is that Arkansas graduation rates are increasing and our students graduate at higher rates than the national average.   Compared to bordering states, we are high performing even though we have a greater percentage of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch (a proxy for poverty).

You should check out the report for yourself, but here’s some of what we found:

Smaller districts:  Smaller districts had higher graduation rates in general, and districts with fewer than 500 students are reporting 90% graduation rates for at risk students.

Smaller cohorts: Grade-level enrollment between 50 and  150 was related to higher graduation rates for students.

More rural: Rural school reported higher graduation rates overall and for at risk students.

Like our earlier report, we found that school poverty rates are related to high school graduation rates.  An interesting aspect of this finding, however, was that higher poverty schools have higher graduation rates for at risk students, while lower poverty schools are more likely to graduate students who are not at risk. 

This finding should spur school leaders to analyze their own graduation rate data and consider what more they can do to support graduation for those students in the minority at their schools.

Data used for the report are available here, and  graduation rate data for all schools and all years are available here.

Although examined individually in this report, these district- and school-level characteristics are interrelated. For example, 63% of Arkansas high schools are located in Rural areas, 72% of the Rural schools are either in the Upper Middle or High Poverty categories and 83% of these rural and higher poverty schools are Very Small or Small districts. All three of these characteristics are positively related to graduation rate, but which is actually driving differences in graduation rate?

In a subsequent paper multivariate analyses will be conducted on a student level, allowing for a more in-depth look into the variations that positively or negatively impact graduation rate. In addition, we will also examine the relationships between graduation rate and other important academic outcomes such as student performance on the ACT and college remediation rates, because although we are pleased to report on Arkansas’ increasing high school graduation rate, we need to ensue that the graduates are truly prepared for life after high school.





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