Diplomas for the Class of 2015: Many Fall Short of College and Workforce Expectations

Thursday, November 3, 2016Printer-friendly version

Washington, D.C. — November 3, 2016 — Achieve today released a new edition of “How the States Got Their Rates,” a report compiling high school diploma options available to the class of 2015 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia alongside their graduation rates. The analysis looked at how many diplomas a state offered, whether the diplomas required students to complete college- and career-ready (CCR) course requirements in English Language Arts (ELA)/literacy and mathematics, assessment requirements for earning the diplomas, and if student subgroup outcomes were reported by diploma type.

Much like last year’s report, Achieve’s analysis reveals that while many states have multiple diploma options for students, they are largely not publicly reporting how many students earn each type of diploma, or modify or substitute required courses. Most states report how many students are graduating, but not whether those graduates are academically ready for college or career.

“While it’s true that there has been an overall increase in graduation rates across the country, what’s less apparent is what that diploma really represents” said Sandy Boyd, Chief Operating Officer of Achieve. “There’s plenty of evidence that far too many students who get a diploma still lack the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers after high school.”

The report details the 95 options (an increase from the 93 options available last year) that states offer for students to receive a high school diploma. In addition, many districts have their own graduation requirements above their state’s requirements. A few states have no requirements at all, relying on districts to set their own.

“When states offer students anything other than a college- and career-ready diploma option, we owe it to students to ensure that whichever option they choose will leave them prepared to pursue the future of their choosing after high school,” said Boyd. “States have adopted rigorous academic standards in core subjects that reflect the real-world demands of life after high school, but too many states aren’t taking the next step, which is to require students to take courses that actually teach those standards in order to graduate. For many kids, a high school diploma provides false assurances of academic readiness for success after high school.”

Key findings from Achieve’s analysis include:

  • In 16 states, the state does not offer a diploma that requires students to complete CCR requirements in ELA and mathematics (Minimum diploma). (Three fewer states than in 2014.)
  • For the first time, Minnesota, Nebraska, and West Virginia expected their graduates to earn a diploma that includes CCR requirements in ELA and mathematics (CCR mandatory). They joined Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, who had these requirements in place for the class of 2014. In these states, the graduation rate is the same as the percentage of students who graduate having earned the CCR diploma option.
  • In 27 states, students have multiple diploma options. In all of these states, at least one option falls short of CCR expectations in ELA and mathematics (CCR default with minimum or personal modification opt out, or CCR opt in).
  • Out of these 27 states, only 11 publicly report the percentage of students earning the CCR-level diploma.

There are a number of simple steps that states can take to increase transparency around diplomas and student outcomes to inform decision-making by students, families, educators, and policymakers. These include:

  • Publishing clear information for students and parents about various diploma options, their requirements, and how these options align with the requirements for college and careers;
  • Publishing accessible and clear information about the percentage of students completing each diploma or pathway option, and disaggregating this data by student subgroup;
  • Monitoring how many and which students are opting out of a college- and career-ready course of study or modifying (i.e., lessening) their course of study to know whether this policy provides an appropriate but infrequently used safety valve — or a loophole that leaves students underprepared.

The full report can be found at https://www.achieve.org/how-the-states-got-their-rates-2015-graduates. Last year’s report can be found at https://www.achieve.org/how-the-states-got-their-rates.

For a complete list of states’ most recent high school diploma options, including mathematics and ELA/literacy course requirements, please visit https://www.achieve.org/graduation-requirements

MEDIA CONTACT: Chad Colby (202) 419-1570, ccolby@achieve.org

Kelly Van Beveren (202) 745-2306, kvanbeveren@achieve.org