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Delaware's all-time high graduation rate based on 'robust' data

Delaware Public Media

A new report says the nation's all-time high graduation rate of 81 percent might not be so clear-cut. An NPR investigation shows graduation rates are often subjective, with some states counting students they shouldn't, or missing ones they should.


In 2014, Delaware's graduation rate climbed from 80 percent to an all-time high of 84 percent. On paper, that puts the First State just about in the middle of the national pack. And it's the most improvement Delaware's had in years.

But just how well does that number reflect reality?Board of Education president Teri Quinn Gray says she thinks Delaware's graduation data is "probably one of the most robust, in terms of how we do track our students."

The state measures its rate based on a four-year cohort system, adjusted for transfers. But for the most part, Quinn Gray says students that come in as freshmen and walk at graduation four years later are counted in that 84 percent.

And Quinn Gray doesn't feel that rate is inflated, either -- she says all Delaware's graduates face the same minimum requirements for credits, courses and testing, and there's only one type of diploma on offer.

"We're sending signals across the state that our students need to have a higher level of rigor and readiness leaving the twelfth grade than they had in prior years," she says. 

Quinn Gray feels Delaware is on the right track with its graduation rate -- 2014's record rate is up from 78 percent in 2011. She says the state is preparing more kids for college or career in a world where a high school diploma is increasingly expected. 

And she says schools working to improve how they work with the students who don't fall into that statistic. Quinn Gray says those students have any number of obstacles -- they may struggle with literacy in elementary school, face abuse or homelessness, or have other basic needs that aren't being met keeping them from graduating on time.

"So we lose them in that four-year cohort graduation rate, but we have programs beyond that to capture them with credit recovery [or] GED," she says, at least until they're in their late teens.

But she notes that schools and teachers can't get those children back on track for future success alone. 

"The communities, the families -- they're such an integral part of setting expectations for their students, getting them there every day, reinforcing what goes on at home," she says. "So we will not get there until that ownership of that child by parents, by families, by communities, by the school all come together."