Great news, looks like we’re slowly getting real about the graduation crisis in our nation’s high schools. Reports from AP News across the web report that states are beginning to change how they measure high school graduation rates.

There are several ways to measure high school graduation, these new rules get us a bit closer to realistic estimates.

Here is the quote of how many states artificially inflate their gradation numbers:

“The method, used by about half the states last year, works like this: If a school had 100 graduates and 10 students who dropped out from their freshmen to senior year, 100 would be divided by 110, giving the school a graduation rate of 90.9 percent.”

This “leaver method” doesn’t tell the whole story about what is occurring in many of our schools, especially those with large numbers of black/Latino/disadvantaged students.

Counting those who “drop out” vastly underestimates how many students leave high school without attaining a high school diploma. The new formulas are an improvement, but here is a list of students who we need to count when we consider the state of high school graduation:

-Not counted are the students leave by getting a G.E.D. (as Chris Rock says, a “good enough diploma”).

-Not counted are the student who don’t officially “drop out.” That is, in order to “drop out” you have to show up to school and fill out official paperwork saying that you are withdrawing from school. Black and Latino males, in particular, don’t drop out: they just simply stop showing up at school. I like calling these students “drift outs”: after awhile, they just disappear, and no one knows or cares where they went.

– Not counted are the student who take more than four years to graduate. When I spent time in Baltimore City Public Schools, I often met 10th graders who were 19 and 20 years old! Getting “held back” is detrimental to student outcomes. Some of these kids will eventually graduate, but often it is just to get rid of them.

-Not counted are student who are “pushed out” of school. Again, many black and brown and male students, in particular, face indefinite “suspensions” and expulsions from high school. In the face of zero tolerance policies, racist teachers, etc, black boys are 2X more likely to face this kind of punishment.

These are limitations of traditional drop out measurements. A better estimate, in my opinion, is to consider the “holding power” of high schools. By tracking individual students from freshman year to senior year, how many of those individual students actually walk across the stage and receive a real diploma?

When “holding power” is examined, we often see that high school graduation rates are closer to 50%-60% for undeserved and minority students! Black males in large urban districts graduate at 40% when holding power is considered. To get the whole story, we need to consider the holding power of schools, not just the aggregate count of how many students drop out.

## States brace for grad-rate dips as formula changes

States are bracing for plummeting high school graduation rates as districts nationwide dump flawed measurement formulas that often undercounted dropouts and produced inflated results.