High School Graduates
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- Definition: Number of public school students from the graduating class who receive a high school diploma (e.g., in 2020, 414,193 California students from the graduating class graduated high school). Use caution when comparing data for 2016 and earlier years—annotated with an asterisk (*)—against 2017 and later.Percentage of public school students from the graduating class who receive a high school diploma (e.g., in 2020, 84.3% of California students from the graduating class graduated high school). Use caution when comparing data for 2016 and earlier years—annotated with an asterisk (*)—against 2017 and later.
- Data Source: California Dept. of Education, Graduates by Race and Gender (2011-2017) (Jun. 2017) & Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate and Outcome Data (Apr. 2021).
- Footnote: Years presented are the final year of a school year (e.g., 2019-20 is shown as 2020). Students completing high school with credentials other than a regular high school diploma are not graduates—e.g., those who receive a General Educational Development (GED) certificate or special education certificate of completion, and, for years 2017 and later, those who pass the California High School Proficiency Exam or receive an adult education high school diploma. The graduating class, or four-year adjusted cohort, is composed of students entering Grade 9 for the first time, adjusted for students who subsequently transfer in, transfer out, or pass away during Grade 9 or the following three years. Prior to 2017, students transferring to adult education programs or community colleges were excluded from the graduating class. Due to changes in methodology, the Dept. of Education recommends that data for 2016 and earlier years—annotated here with an asterisk (*)—should not be compared with 2017 and later. The notation S refers to percentages that have been suppressed because there were fewer than 20 high school graduates, and to numbers that have been suppressed because there were fewer than 11 graduates. N/A means that data are not available.
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, 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
- Disconnected Youth
- Pupil Support Services
- School Climate
- Academic Motivation (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- School Connectedness (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- School Supports (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Caring Relationships with Adults at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- High Expectations from Adults at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Meaningful Participation at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Students Are Motivated to Learn (Staff Reported)
- School Motivates Students to Learn (Staff Reported)
- School Is a Supportive and Inviting Place to Learn (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Care About Students (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Believe in Student Success (Staff Reported)
- Math Proficiency
- Reading Proficiency
- College Eligibility
- 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 (3). 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 (3). High school graduates also are less likely to have public health insurance, be uninsured, or engage in criminal activity (3, 4). One 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 (4).For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Healthy People 2030: High School Graduation. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/healthypeople/priority-areas/social-determinants-health/literature-summaries/high-school-graduation
2. Shaffer, B. (2015). The changing landscape of high school equivalency in the U.S.: Options, issues, and improvement strategies. Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at CLASP. Retrieved from: https://www.clasp.org/publications/report/brief/changing-landscape-high-school-equivalency-us-options-issues-and
3. Alliance for Excellent Education. (2017). The graduation effect: Every student’s potential to impact a community. Retrieved from: http://impact.all4ed.org/US-GradEffect-Infographic.pdf
4. 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 2020 was 84%. Across counties with data, 12 had rates above 90%, while four were lower than 75%. Statewide, girls are more likely to graduate high school with their class than are boys, as are Asian, Filipino, and white students when compared with their peers in other groups.
More than 43,000 students from California's class of 2020 did not complete high school with their cohort—approximately 1 in every 11 students. The rate of exit before completing high school varies widely by region and race/ethnicity; e.g., among groups with data from the 2020 class, the percentage of African American/black and American Indian/Alaska Native students not completing high school was nearly double the percentage of white students and more than three times that for Asian 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 social 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 poverty and limited access to quality learning opportunities throughout childhood, chronic physical or mental health conditions, family issues, or other adverse life events (1, 3). Children at risk for poor educational outcomes can be identified and supported early 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 disparities 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 low-income students, English learners, youth in foster care, and students with disabilities (1, 5).
Policy options that could promote high school graduation include:
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit GradNation, the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse, and 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.
- 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-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)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Atwell, M. N., et al. (2021). Building a GradNation: Progress and challenge in raising high school graduation rates. Civic & Everyone Graduates Center. Retrieved from: https://new.every1graduates.org/building-a-grad-nation/
2. Center for Promise. (n.d.). The building blocks of a GradNation: Assets for keeping young people in school. America's Promise Alliance. Retrieved from: https://foster-ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/The-Building-Blocks-of-a-GradNation-Assets-for-Keeping-Young-People-in-School.pdf
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://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED586375.pdf
4. As cited on kidsdata.org, High school graduates, by race/ethnicity. (2021). 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. (2022). 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 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: https://csgjusticecenter.org/publications/school-discipline
- Research & Links
- Websites with Related Information
- Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed)
- American Youth Policy Forum
- America's Promise Alliance
- California Collaborative for Educational Excellence
- California Dropout Research Project. UC Santa Barbara, Gervitz Graduate School of Education.
- California Education GPS. Alliance for Continuous Improvement.
- Education Commission of the States
- Education Reform Now
- Everyone Graduates Center. Johns Hopkins University School of Education.
- Institute of Education Sciences: What Works Clearinghouse. U.S. Dept. of Education.
- Jobs for the Future
- National Dropout Prevention Center
- Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis
- Key Reports and Research
- 2022 California Children's Report Card. Children Now.
- Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates. (2021). Civic & Everyone Graduates Center. Atwell, M. N., et al.
- California ESSA Consolidated State Plan. (2022). California Dept. of Education.
- California's Future: Education. (2021). Public Policy Institute of California. Hill, L., et al.
- Dispelling Stereotypes of Young People Who Leave School Before Graduation. (2016). America’s Promise Alliance, Center for Promise.
- Does Raising High School Graduation Requirements Improve Student Outcomes? (2021). Public Policy Institute of California. Gao, N.
- Getting Down to Facts II. Policy Analysis for California Education.
- Health Barriers to Learning and the Education Opportunity Gap. (2015). Education Commission of the States. Basch, C. E., et al.
- Indicators and Interventions: A Practical Manual for Early Warning Systems. (2019). Everyone Graduates Center.
- Is the Rise in High School Graduation Rates Real?: High-Stakes School Accountability and Strategic Behavior. (2020). The Brown Center on Education Policy.
- Supporting California’s Children Through a Whole Child Approach: A Field Guide for Creating Integrated, School-Based Systems of Care. (2022). Breaking Barriers, California Alliance of Child and Family Services, Santa Clara County Office of Education, & WestEd.
- The Essentials of California’s Education System Upgrades. (2018). Alliance for Continuous Improvement.
- The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth. (2019). National Academies Press. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
- County/Regional Reports
- 2023 California County Scorecard of Children's Well-Being. Children Now.
- Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County. Orange County Children's Partnership.
- Collaborating for Equity: A Scan of the Los Angeles Educational Ecosystem. (2015). Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University. Potochnik, T., & Romans, A. N.
- College Prep for All: Will San Diego Students Meet Challenging New Graduation Requirements? (2016). Public Policy Institute of California. Betts, J. R., et al.
- Community Health Improvement Plan for Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- Important Facts About Kern’s Children. Kern County Network for Children.
- New Measures, Similar Results: Oakland Public Schools and the New State Dashboard. (2018). Oakland Achieves Partnership.
- Orange County Community Indicators Report. Orange County Business Council, et al.
- San Mateo County All Together Better. San Mateo County Health.
- Santa Clara County Children's Data Book. Santa Clara County Office of Education, et al.
- Santa Monica Youth Wellbeing Report Card. Santa Monica Cradle to Career.
- Spotlight on the Inland Empire. (2021). Measure of America. Lewis, K.
- More Data Sources For High School Graduation
- 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being. Annie E. Casey Foundation.
- California School Dashboard. California Dept. of Education.
- DataQuest. California Dept. of Education.
- Education Data Partnership (Ed-Data) California Dept. of Education, et al.
- Local Control Funding Formula Reports. California Dept. of Education.
- National Center for Education Statistics: Data and Tools. U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.
- The Graduation Effect. Alliance for Excellent Education.
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