Students Not Completing High School

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Learn More About High School Graduation

Measures of High School Graduation on Kidsdata.org
On kidsdata.org, high school graduation is measured by the number and percentage of public school students from the graduating class (the four-year adjusted cohort) who receive a regular high school diploma. These data are available for the state, counties, and school districts overall and, at the state and county level, by gender and by race/ethnicity.

Kidsdata.org also provides the number and percentage of students who do not complete high school with their graduating class, overall and by race/ethnicity.
Some students from the graduating class are neither high school graduates nor non-completers. These include students who receive a General Educational Development (GED) certificate or special education certificate of completion, those who remain enrolled after the end of the fourth year, and, for some years, those who pass the California High School Proficiency Exam, receive an adult education high school diploma, and/or transfer to an adult education program or community college before the end of the fourth year. See kidsdata.org's indicator footnotes for more information.
High School Graduation
College Eligibility
Disconnected Youth
Math Proficiency
Pupil Support Services
Reading Proficiency
School Climate
Why This Topic Is Important
Graduating from high school is associated with a range of positive life outcomes, from better employment and income prospects to better health and life expectancy (1). Although many young people who do not receive a high school diploma go on to earn an equivalency degree, such as a GED, this credential is associated with lower earning potential than a standard diploma (2).

The benefits of graduating from high school do not stop with the individual; society also benefits in significant ways (1). For example, if the U.S. reached a 90% graduation rate for just one class of students, it would increase annual earnings by an estimated $3.1 billion (1). High school graduates also are more likely to vote and less likely to need social services or engage in criminal activity (1). A recent study estimates that students who drop out of high school are over three times more likely to be arrested by age 18 than those who graduate (3).
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  America's Promise Alliance. (2018). High school graduation facts: Ending the dropout crisis. Retrieved from: https://www.americaspromise.org/high-school-graduation-facts-ending-dropout-crisis

2.  Shaffer, B. (2015). The changing landscape of high school equivalency in the U.S.: Options, issues, and improvement strategies. Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Retrieved from: https://www.clasp.org/publications/report/brief/changing-landscape-high-school-equivalency-us-options-issues-and

3.  Lansford, J. E., et al. (2016). A public health perspective on school dropout and adult outcomes: A prospective study of risk and protective factors from age 5 to 27 years. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(6), 652-658. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4877222
How Children Are Faring
The graduation rate among California high school students from the class of 2018 was 83%. Across counties with data, four had rates above 90%, while five were lower than 75%. Statewide, girls are more likely to graduate high school with their class than are boys, as are Asian American, Filipino, and white students when compared with their peers in other groups.

More than 48,000 students from California's class of 2018 did not complete high school with their cohort—nearly 1 in every 10 students. The rate of exit before completing high school varies widely by region and race/ethnicity; e.g., among groups with data from the 2018 class, the percentage of African American/black and American Indian/Alaska Native students not completing high school was more than double the percentage of white students and more than five times that for Asian American and Filipino students.
Policy Implications
Graduating from high school is linked to positive employment, income, and health outcomes for individuals as well as to larger societal and economic benefits (1). Students may not finish high school for a variety of reasons. Risk factors for dropping out include absenteeism, behavior problems, poor performance in math or reading, and grade retention (1, 2). Underlying causes for these factors may be related to chronic physical or mental health conditions, poverty, family issues, or other adverse life events (1, 3). Children at risk of poor educational outcomes can be identified early and supported successfully to stay engaged in school (1, 2). In addition to identifying and addressing risk factors, policymakers can promote evidence-based strategies to foster student, family, school, and community strengths associated with higher graduation rates (1, 2).

Although California's graduation rate is on the rise and gaps by race/ethnicity have narrowed in recent years, rates still are lowest for African American/black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students (4). Other populations at higher risk of dropping out include lower-income students, English Learners, youth in foster care, and students with disabilities (1, 5).

Policy options that could promote high school graduation include:
  • Ensuring that California's K-12 education system is adequately funded and that its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan and Local Control Funding Formula are implemented effectively at the district and school levels, with a continued focus on evidence-based strategies to support those at highest risk of dropping out (6, 7)
  • Continuing to encourage and support K-12 schools in efforts to mobilize students, families, and community partners in developing comprehensive, coordinated systems to support student needs and promote a positive school climate; such systems should involve school-based services to identify and address student physical, mental, or family health issues, strategies to address behavior problems (e.g., bullying), and efforts to promote social and emotional skills (1, 2, 3)
  • Improving policies and practices focused on early identification of students who are struggling, including young students in feeder schools, and providing tailored support (such as community-based tutoring, mentoring, and engagement-building programs for children and families), especially during critical periods, e.g., during the transitions into and out of middle school (1, 2, 3)
  • Promoting school discipline policies that are non-punitive, transparent, fair, consistent, and aim to keep students in school when possible (8)
  • Ensuring that students are provided with a range of high-quality post-secondary education and workforce engagement opportunities (1)
  • Continuing to support and improve comprehensive data systems that accurately document dropout risk factors and inform strategies for student success, including early warning indicators, data sharing, and longitudinal tracking (1)
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section, or visit GradNation, the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse, or the California Dropout Research Project. Also see Policy Implications under the following topics on kidsdata.org: Disconnected Youth, School Attendance and Discipline, and College Eligibility.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Atwell, M. N., et al. (2019). Building a grad nation: Progress and challenge in raising high school graduation rates. Civic & Everyone Graduates Center. Retrieved from: https://www.americaspromise.org/2019-building-grad-nation-report

2.  Center for Promise. (2015). The building blocks of a GradNation: Assets for keeping young people in school. America's Promise Alliance. Retrieved from: https://www.americaspromise.org/resource/building-blocks-gradnation

3.  Porche, M. V., et al. (2017). Barriers to success: Moving toward a deeper understanding of adversity's effects on adolescents. America's Promise Alliance. Retrieved from: https://www.americaspromise.org/report/barriers-success

4.  As cited on kidsdata.org, High school graduates, by race/ethnicity. (2020). California Department of Education.

5.  American Youth Policy Forum. (2017). Supporting pathways to long-term success for systems-involved youth: Lessons learned. Retrieved from: https://www.aypf.org/resource/supporting-pathways-to-long-term-success

6.  California Department of Education. (2019). California ESSA consolidated state plan. Retrieved from: https://www.cde.ca.gov/re/es

7.  Children Now. (2020). 2020 California children's report card: A survey of kids' well-being and a roadmap for the future. Retrieved from: https://www.childrennow.org/portfolio-posts/20-report-card

8.  Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: http://knowledgecenter.csg.org/kc/system/files/The_School_Discipline_Consensus_Report.pdf
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For High School Graduation