A new report shows that New Jersey continues to be among the nation’s leaders in high school graduation rates and is making progress in closing gaps among student groups. The report also indicates that sustaining such progress will be challenging as the state adopts new graduation policies.
Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic is the sixth annual report from America’s Promise Alliance, the lead organization in a national effort to reach a 90% or higher graduation rate for all student groups by 2020.
The report makes extensive use of data from a new federal graduation rate formula first implemented in 2011. NJ’s overall high school graduation rate is 87.5%, well above the national average of 81.4%. NJ is also one of six states closest to reaching the national goal of 90% by 2020. The state was one of ten making “the most significant gains” increasing “their graduation rates by four percentage points or more from 2011 to 2013.”
In addition, gaps between subgroups of NJ students have narrowed. These gaps still remain significant, reflecting the state’s overall high levels of performance. In 2013, graduation rates for low-income students were 77.1%, compared to 91.7% for non-low income students. Rates for white students were 93.1%, for Black students 76.4%, and Hispanic students 78.6%. Students with disabilities graduated at a rate of 75.9%, and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students at 70.5%. Gaps narrowed over the same time span between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic students. But gaps increased slightly between students with disabilities and LEP students and all students.
The report emphasizes that further progress on graduation rates will depend on progress among high needs subgroups. “With low-income students now a majority in America’s public schools and income inequality and concentrated poverty on the rise in our neighborhoods and schools, the nation must redouble efforts to close the opportunity gap and ensure these students have the resources and supports they need to stay on track to graduation,” the report states.
Among the report’s policy recommendations were: “make funding more equitable” and “fund early education, health, and wellness initiatives to counter the effects of poverty.”
Several years ago, America’s Promise Alliance helped initiate the New Jersey Graduation Campaign, which brought together a broad group of stakeholders in a series of statewide summits and other efforts to raise graduation rates and decrease dropouts. Related efforts like the Abbott “Secondary Education Initiative” remain on the books in regulation, but have received no support for years. The Christie Administration abandoned statewide secondary reform efforts soon after taking office.
More recently, the NJ Department of Education proposed new graduation policies that will eliminate some of the graduation pathways that have helped sustain NJ’s high graduation rates. For example, the Alternative High School Assessment, used annually by nearly 10,000 students, including more than half of all LEP students, to satisfy state standards and earn their diplomas will be eliminated after this year.
Reaching graduation rates above 90% for all students will require the right mix of reform, resources, and opportunity. New Jersey and the nation still have a long way to go to reach that goal.
Director, Secondary Reform Project
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications