Frequently Asked Questions
Why are there so many ways of calculating high school graduation rates?
A graduation rate may seem straightforward to calculate, but there are many technical decisions for which there are not always clear-cut methods or procedures. In its most simple form, a graduation rate is calculated by dividing the number of graduates by the number of students who could have graduated. But analysts must make decisions about how to count students who transfer in or out of the district, how to count students who earn an alternative diploma or GED instead of a regular high school diploma, and how to be sure new methods for collecting, storing, and validating data have not introduced changes to the data that could affect their accuracy or the comparability of graduation rates over time. Different methods will be more or less useful for different purposes and more or less valid and reliable for different types of students. Decisions that favor accountability may not be best for program evaluation, and neither may be best for most accurately displaying the true state of schools. Trade-offs must be made in terms of accuracy, inclusiveness, lack of bias, need for accountability, and data entry requirements. Measuring trends in graduation rates also depends on having consistent data over time—data that are gathered, cleaned, and analyzed in the same way over many years.
Should we trust the high school graduation rates and the data that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) provides on high school graduation?
There has been concern that the district-generated graduation rates, and trends in graduation rates, have been affected by improperly coding dropouts as transfer students. There is evidence to warrant these concerns. However, even the most conservatively-estimated rates, where all transfer students are counted as dropouts, show large improvements in the percentage of students earning a diploma, especially in the last six years when the number and proportion of students coded as transferring out of CPS has been declining. This does not mean that data records on student transfers are free from error, but that data issues only affect the level and not the trend in graduation rates (Allensworth, Healey, Gwynne, & Crespin, 2016).
Additional concerns have been raised about CPS counting students who received diplomas from alternative schools and programs as graduates. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium) does not count these students as graduates because it is not clear that the same standards apply for their diplomas as in regular schools, although valid arguments could be made to count them with other graduates—the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) also counts students who received diplomas from alternative schools and programs as graduates. The number and proportion of CPS students earning alternative diplomas has increased slightly, but these increases are vastly outweighed by the increases in the number and proportion of students earning traditional diplomas.
Why do UChicago Consortium’s high school graduation rates differ from those published by CPS?
The primary difference is that UChicago Consortium treats all transfers out of the district as true transfers and not dropouts, regardless of whether the transfers have been verified, while CPS treats unverified transfers as dropouts in their publicly-reported graduation rates. The rates also differ because CPS counts students who earn a diploma from an alternative school as graduates and UChicago Consortium does not. The district also includes any student who was ever in ninth grade, even if the student was enrolled for just one day, and does not include students who transfer into CPS after ninth grade. UChicago Consortium includes students who either were enrolled in ninth grade at the start of the year (by the 20th day), transferred into the district after the start of the year and remained in CPS long enough to receive grades for at least one semester, or who transferred into the district after ninth grade. Because charter schools do not provide their students’ course grades to CPS, students who transferred from another district into a charter high school in CPS in the middle of the year are included in the cohort regardless of whether or not they stayed long enough to receive grades for that semester.
UChicago Consortium’s school-level rates can differ from CPS’s rates for the reasons above and because of differences in how we assign students to schools. CPS annualizes students to the school where the student spent the greatest proportion of their enrollment days in a given year. UChicago Consortium assigns students to the school where they were enrolled on the 20th day of school or the first school where they were actively enrolled, which may be different from their annualized school.
Why do the high school graduation rates shown in shown in The Educational Attainment of Chicago Public Schools Students: 2015 brief differ from those in the Consortium graduation report (Allensworth, Healey, Gwynne, & Crespin, 2016)?
The high school graduation rates shown in the brief group students according to when they first entered ninth grade, also known as “first-time freshman cohorts.” The research report groups students according to when they turned 14, also known as “age-14 cohorts.” Because CPS uses promotion standards in elementary school grade levels, the characteristics of students entering high school—especially in terms of age and prior achievement—vary over time. We used age cohorts in the research report because they are more comparable over time than cohorts defined by grade level. We use freshman cohorts in the brief because they are more useful to school practitioners who organize students by their year in school, rather than by their age.
Why do the college enrollment rates shown in The Educational Attainment of Chicago Public Schools Students: 2015 brief differ from rates reported by CPS on the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) reports?
The Consortium brief only includes enrollment in four-year colleges while the SQRP also includes enrollment in two-year colleges. CPS counts any enrollment during the school year following high school graduation while UChicago Consortium only counts enrollments in the fall following high school graduation. In addition, the district includes graduates of special education and alternative schools in its enrollment rates and UChicago Consortium does not.
Why do the college enrollment rates shown in The Educational Attainment of Chicago Public Schools Students: 2015 brief differ from those provided by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)?
ISBE includes enrollment in either a two-year or a four-year college and allows up to 16 months from high school graduation for students to enroll. The enrollment rates shown in the brief are only for four-year colleges and only include students who enrolled during the fall after their high school graduation.