Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
News School/District Profiles School/District Administration Educator Services Assessment/Accountability Family & Community  
> Administration Finance/Grants PK-16 Program Support Information Services  

Information Services - Statistical Reports

Calculating Massachusetts Public High School Graduation Rates Project Overview

September 2006


  • What percentage of first-time 9th graders graduate four years later?
  • What happens to those students who don't graduate? Do they graduate in five years, or do they leave school without ever earning a diploma?
  • How do graduation rates vary by student subgroup?

The answers to these questions and others are critical to all involved in efforts to increase graduation rates and improve educational outcomes for all students. In addition, reporting graduation rates is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and by a National Governors Association compact that Massachusetts has signed. However, until recently graduation rates could only be estimated from annual dropout data or from grade level enrollment information. Now with five years of student-level data from the state's Student Information Management System (SIMS), the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is able to track an individual class from the initial entrance into 9th grade through to graduation, so that we can answer these questions in a more accurate and reliable manner.

Graduation Rate Formula

The Department is currently developing the methodology for calculating the state graduation rate. As with any data, it is important to publish rates that are clearly defined, easily understood, and comparable across schools and districts. In addition, we must meet certain external requirements. Under NCLB, states are required to use a graduation rate to determine "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) for all secondary schools, defined as: "The percentage of students, measured from the beginning of high school, who graduate from high school with a regular diploma in the standard number of years." NCLB Act, Section 1111(b)(2)(C)(vi). Massachusetts has also signed a compact with the National Governors Association in 2005, agreeing to "take steps to implement a standard, four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate." Under this compact, states agree to calculate the graduation rate by dividing the number of on-time graduates in a given year by the number of first time entering ninth graders four years earlier, adjusted for transfers in and out of the system.

A major challenge has been defining what is meant by "on-time" and its relationship to "the standard number of years." We explored basing such judgments on individual expectations regarding the expected time it will take each student to graduate, but concluded that this approach is not appropriate because it can lead to lower expectations for students, can be difficult to implement, and can create a lack of transparency and comparability in the final data. Therefore, the Department has decided to publish a straightforward 4-year graduation rate, a 5-year graduation rate, and additional rates as policy and program needs may warrant. Rates will be generated for the entire student population and for individual student subgroups at the state-, district-, and school-level.

The 4-year rate will provide the percentage of the original cohort that graduates in 4 years or less. For example, the formula for the 2006 graduating class is:

# of students in cohort who graduate in 4 years or less
[# of 1st time entering 9th graders in 2002-03] - transfers out + transfers in

Likewise, the 5-year rate will be calculated as:

# of students in cohort who graduate in 5 years or less
[# of 1st time entering 9th graders in 2002-03] - transfers out + transfers in

Data to Be Included

The graduation rates will be calculated from the individual student-level data that school districts submitted through the SIMS going back to the end-of-year 2002 file. This file is necessary to identify those students were to enter 9th grade for the first time in the fall of 2002.

In addition, data that school districts submitted through the Missing Students Report will be incorporated into the results. The Missing Students Report is an annual collection that gathers information on students that were reported as enrolled at the end of the year and are not reported in the following October SIMS submission.

Student Subgroups

Graduation rates will be reported by the subgroups used in AYP calculations (Limited English Proficient, special education, low-income, and the race/ethnicity categories). A student will be included in the LEP, special education, or low-income subgroup - or any combination of them - if he/she was reported in that subgroup in at least one SIMS report over the course of his/her high school career. A different approach must be taken with the race/ethnicity groups, as they are all considered subgroups. In the cases where a student's reported race/ethnicity changes during high school, the student will be included according to the last reported category.

Summer Graduates

Summer graduates will be included as if they graduated in the June preceding the summer. In the first year reporting this data, the rates will be released with the summer graduates included. In the future, if the Department decides to release preliminary data earlier than waiting for the summer data would allow, the data will be updated when the summer graduate data become available. Statewide, about 1.5 percent of graduates are reported as summer graduates when school districts report SIMS data the following October 1.

Outplaced Students

Publicly-funded students placed in collaboratives and private special education schools will be included in their district rates.

Pre-9th Grade Dropouts - ON HOLD FOR TWO YEARS

Statewide, a number of students drop out of school the summer before 9th grade. During the first two years of SIMS data collections, the Department did not afford districts an ample opportunity to review and correct these data. Hence, students who completed 8th grade but who were not enrolled in 9th grade the following October (and for whom documentation does not exist to explain this non-enrollment) will not be included in the graduation rates calculated for the 2006 cohort or the 2007 cohort. These students WILL be included in the cohort for the school/district in which they failed to enroll beginning with the 2008 cohort. This is in keeping with guidelines from the National Center for Education Statistics regarding accounting for dropouts. In some instances a charter school or a district ends at eighth grade. In these cases, a student who completes eighth grade and then drops out, will be included in the district associated with his/her town of residence, in accordance with M.G.L. Ch. 72, s. 2.

9th- 12th Grade Dropouts

Students who drop out are reported in the original school and district cohort. If the student re-enrolls in another school after dropping out, he/she is included in the original school and district cohort as a dropout AND as enrolled in the new school and district cohort.

For example, if a student drops out of school A, he/she will be counted in the denominator for school A, but not in the numerator. This will not change even if the student later enrolls in school B in another district and graduates. He/she will continue to be included in the formula for school A AND be counted in the formula for school B.


  • Students who transfer from one school to another within the same district will not be counted in the original school cohort, but will be counted in the second school cohort.
  • Students who transfer from one district to another district will not be counted in the original school and district cohort, but will be counted in the second school and district cohort.
  • Students who are retained in a high school grade prior to transfer will be counted in the second school and district cohort, but not as a 4-year graduate. For example, if a student repeats grade 9 in school X and then moves to school Y in another district at the start of grade 10 and graduates three years later, he/she will be counted in the denominator for school Y but not in the numerator for the 4-year graduation rate. He/she will be counted in the numerator for the 5-year graduation rate.

Data Corrections

It is important that the reported rates are as accurate as possible, but this must be balanced with the need to report data in a timely way. Given that each data submission had an edit period and that superintendents signed off on the accuracy of each data submission in recent years, we do not expect there to be many inaccuracies in the data. However, because this is the first time we have analyzed the data this way, and we will be using data from the initial years of SIMS when districts were still becoming familiar with the system, we need to allow for the possibility of a limited number of corrections. Student-level data comprising the 2006 graduation rate will be released to districts this fall. District staff will have approximately one month to review the data and request corrections to the data. The Department will then review all requests and determine which changes will be made. For subsequent years, it is anticipated that the number and type of corrections allowed will decrease.

Adequate Yearly Progress Determinations

Under NCLB, states are required to use the graduation rate to determine AYP for all secondary schools. The AYP determinations that the Department makes in the fall of 2007 will be based on the 2006 cohort rate. The Board of Education is expected to discuss the AYP graduation standards at the February 2007 Board meeting and vote on a minimum graduation rate standard at the March 2007 Board meeting.

Projected Timeline

  • October 2006: The Department will finalize the methodology for calculating high school graduation rates.

  • November 2006: Starting in mid-November, districts will have about a month to review cohort 2006 student data on the security portal and request data corrections if necessary. The Department will schedule workshops to assist districts in understanding the methodology. Rates will not yet be calculated.

  • December 2006: The Department will make decisions regarding the requests for corrections, implement approved changes in the data, and calculate rates.

  • Late January 2007: Rates will be released to districts for final review, 10 days prior to public release of the data.

  • Early February 2007: Public release of the graduation rates.

  • February and March 2007: The Board of Education is expected to discuss the use of graduation rates for AYP purposes at its February meeting, taking a vote at the March meeting.

  • August 2007: 2006 graduation data will be used in AYP determinations.

If you have questions or would like more information, please send an email to

Last Updated: September 18, 2006
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search · Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact ESE