1. Have graduation rates improved for all students in Chicago, or just for students with specific backgrounds?
2. Have graduation rates increased because of inaccurate record-keeping?
3. Are graduation rates going up because high schools have lowered the standards for obtaining a diploma?
4. Are graduation rates improving because high schools are serving different types of students, with higher achievement prior to high school?
5. Are graduation rates improving because of changes in Chicago Public High Schools (CPS) high schools?
This study uses age cohorts – following students from freshman year in CPS until they turn 19. This allows the cohorts to be comparable over time, regardless of changes in grade promotion criteria. It finds graduation rates have increased by 22 percentage points over the last 16 years, from 52.4 percent among students who turned 19 in 1998, to 74.8 percent in 2014, with the most rapid increase occurring in the last six years. Freshman OnTrack rates have also risen during the same period, from 48 percent among students who were 19 years old in 1998 to 81 percent for students who will turn 19 in 2017, suggesting graduation rates will continue to rise.
While changes in student demographics account for some of the increase in graduation rates, improvements in student performance in high school—compared to similar students who started high school in the past—accounts for most of the change; students are passing more classes and earning more credits in ninth grade. Not only are more students graduating, but they are leaving high school with higher achievement than graduates in prior years.